I am fascinated by any books about books, bookstores, librarians. I suppose it comes from my longest-running love affair being with books. So I was curious about this one, excited – but also a little hesitant. I had the book for over a month before I decided to finally dig in. Auschwitz is a heavy topic, books notwithstanding – and it’s even more fraught these days, with what we see happening all over the world. However, read it I did – and it was excellent. It is a reminder of what was, a caution of what could be, and – above all – a celebration of the indomitable spirit and will of one young lady.
The book is based on the very real life of Dita Kraus, a young Jew who is sent to Auschwitz in her teens with her mother and father. All of them destined to die there, in one of several horrifying ways – along with thousands and thousands more. Upon arrival at Auschwitz, Dita’s family gets assigned to Block 31 – the family block – and she gets lucky enough to be in with the children. She ends up in charge of the few books that have managed to be smuggled into the camp. Possession of a book means an immediate death sentence, a knowledge which follows her every waking minute in the camp.
The Librarian of Auschwitz isn’t just Dita’s story, however. It’s also the story of those strong enough to try and resist in whatever ways they could. Of those who were weak, and failed to speak up about what they saw happening. Of those who, once upon a time, would have been just another person – but instead, chose to become killers. It’s a reminder of what was, and what could be yet again. As that famous quote goes, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”.
I greatly appreciated the Epilogue, the Postscript, and the “What happened to…” sections at the end of the book. And for the final details? The endpapers – in the front, the map of Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Camp, August 1944. The back? Birkenau Extermination Camp, September 1944. All the pieces tie this book together in a way that really forces one to be absorbed into the story.
There was a very real chance that this book could have turned into some overly dramatized, maudlin mess – thereby negating anything it was trying to say. Thankfully, it did not do so, which is a credit to both the author and the translator. It is an engrossing read, with heart and spirit and warmth. It is also a horrifying read, one that shows the worst of humanity while highlighting the best. Having said that – it can be quite dark. There were truly awful ways to die in the camps, and not all of them by stepping into “a shower”. Definitely more for the Young Adult audience, unless you know you have a reader mature enough to handle the themes. Regardless of age, *absolutely* a book to talk about with your readers after they have finished it. As with us all, much of life is about the choices that we make – for good or ill – and that shines through here.
This book is about a librarian – a young, teenage girl who does what she can to preserve knowledge while stuck in one of the worst places ever to have been created by man. A girl who sees the best and the worst of humanity, all in the same place. It’s also about all of us, and whether we have the courage to step up when hate comes calling.
For more information on Dita Kraus, please visit https://www.ditakraus.com/