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The Librarian of Auschwitz (2012)

by Antonio Iturbe

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1,2606011,768 (4.08)27
Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust. Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz. Out of one of the darkest chapters of human history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope. This title has Common Core connections. Godwin Books… (more)
  1. 01
    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (_eskarina)
    _eskarina: Similar setting (WWII), similar emphasis on the power of the books.

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English (49)  Spanish (6)  Catalan (2)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (60)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
This was billed as a young adult novel, but I question that young adult designation. This novel was based loosely on the life of 14 year old Dita Kraus. Dita and her family were Czech Jews and were first sent to Terizen and then on to Auschwitz. The Nazis kept a family camp at Auschwitz for about a year so that the press and Red Cross could visit and tell the world that this was a nice place. They even had a "school" for children-with no books, desks, pencils, papers, etc. Through the resistance Dita came to have 8 books which she cared for and passed around. Had she been caught it would have been the gas chambers for her and her family. Dita and her mother were transferred to Belgen-Belsen where things were even worse than Auschwitz. Eventually Dita is liberated by the English. There are some interesting interviews with Dita on Youtube. I felt this book was a little too much fiction--it even had the obligatory romance--prisoner and Nazi officer. It was billed as a novel, so I don't want to judge too harshly. Also, if it was written for 13-17 year olds, I understand the included romance. 447 pages ( )
  Tess_W | Nov 24, 2021 |
"A teenage girl imprisoned in Auschwitz keeps the secret library of a forbidden school.

Dita Adlerova, 14, is confined in the notorious extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Compared to her fellow inmates, Dita’s relatively lucky. The several thousand residents of camp BIIb are inexplicably allowed to keep their own clothing, their hair, and, most importantly, their children. A young man named Fredy Hirsch maintains a school in BIIb, right under the noses of the Nazis. In Fredy’s classroom, Dita discovers something wonderful: a dangerous collection of eight smuggled books. The tale, based on the real life of Dita Polach Kraus and the events of 1944 and 1945, intertwines the stories of several real people: Dita, Fredy, several little-known war heroes, even a grim cameo from Anne and Margot Frank. Holocaust-knowledgeable readers will have suspicions about how many characters will die horribly (spoiler alert: this is Auschwitz). Yet somehow, myriad storylines told by multiple narrators offer compelling narrative tension. Why does BIIb exist? Will Rudi and Alice have a romance? What’s Fredy’s secret? Will Dr. Mengele subject Dita to his grotesque experiments? Dita’s matter-of-fact perspective, set in a slow build from BIIb to the chaotic starvation of the war’s end, both increases the horror and makes it bearable to read.

Though no punches are pulled about the unimaginable atrocity of the death camps, a life-affirming history . (Historical fiction. 13-16)" A Kirkus Starred Review, www.kirkusreviews.com
  CDJLibrary | Nov 3, 2021 |
Well, you all know how I felt going into this novel - so how did it pan out?

About 30 pages in I'd decided to bail. The fictionalising of events in Auschwitz really wasn't sitting well with my conscience, and the narrative voice wasn't doing it for me either. It felt like something had perhaps been lost in the translation from Spanish to English; there was a stiltedness to it. At over 400 pages long it's not a short book either, and I wasn't sure I could go the distance given the subject matter.

So I put it to one side, but then my husband and I had a conversation about it. This is a man who won't watch the Titanic movie as he feels disgusted about Hollywood turning a terrible tragedy into entertainment, and who refused to go to Auschwitz when he was in Poland as he didn't want to feel like he was contributing to it being a tourist attraction. I expected for sure that he'd agree that writing a novel about a librarian in Auschwitz was a poor taste way of getting sales, but he surprised me by suggesting that there may be value in reading it given the author's engagement with Dita Kraus, the 'librarian' of Auschwitz. At the back of the book I found that Iturbe had engaged significantly with her, even visiting the Czech ghetto with her where her family were initially moved to, so I decide to pick it up again, and a few more chapters in the narrative style stopped jarring with me and I really got into it.

Having read Eli Wiesel's Night, Iturbe doesn't capture the horror of Auschwitz with the same sharpness of a survivor's own account, but I tried to keep the perspective that his objective wasn't necessarily to be that authority. Rather, he wanted to develop out the story of Kraus' teenage role in Auschwitz as librarian for 8 books as the narrative device for telling the story of the family camp. This was, at the time, a new and suspicious step by the Nazis, allowing families to stay together, with the prisoners informed that after 6 months each intake would receive special treatment. A school for children was allowed to take place every day, a significant event beyond its educational merit as its structure and focus resulted in no children dying whilst attending the school, which statistically was unheard of in Auschwitz hitherto. Needless to say the family camp was simply a ruse to distract any potential inspections from The Red Cross, and you can guess what the special treatment at the end of the 6 months was for so many innocent souls.

The trouble with fictional accounts of something like Auschwitz is that as you become absorbed you can lose the perspective of it being based on real lives. As Iturbe develops the plot of this book and dramatic tension is built up at various points, at times I did feel uncomfortable that the Auschwitz horrors were giving me page-turning moments.

So, in all, I own up - I enjoyed it and zipped through it in 2 days. Should I have enjoyed it? Should it have been page-turning fodder? I still feel that there's an author's selfishness at play in wanting to use Auschwitz as a plot device, but on the other side of the coin he writes of the bravery of a number of people whose stories would probably otherwise be lost in history forever.

4 stars for being a good read. I'm still searching my conscience a little, though. ( )
  AlisonY | Oct 18, 2021 |
Antonio Iturbe did a ton of research, cobbling together the actual experiences of 14-year old Dita Kraus, who survived both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and other real stories, such as the most well documented escape from Auschwitz. Dita and her parents were first relegated to the Terezin ghetto, before being sent to the concentration camp. Dita is brave and steadfast, and becomes the librarian of a barrack used as a school in case of an inspection. She hides a small handful of diverse books. Real horrors, but the book was slow in many places and many of the characters less than interesting. ( )
  skipstern | Jul 11, 2021 |
The Librarian of Auschwitz, Antonio Iturbi, Dita Kraus, authors; Lilit Thwaites, translator; Marisa Calin, Dita Kraus, narrators
In March of 1939, Dita Adler’s life changed. She was only nine years old at the time and a very happy, only child. She lived in Prague, Czechoslovakia, with her parents. She remembers the square with its famous clock, in a time of peace, before the Germans invaded. The setting seemed ideal. Then in March of 1939, Hitler’s troops entered the city. Different flags flew, street names changed, soldiers appeared in the streets, and race laws were enacted. The normal daily life for the Jews was slowly modified until they lost the ability to move about freely in public spaces, parks, libraries, and schools. They could not use public transportation, could only shop in certain stores at certain times, could not work and could not fraternize with anyone that wasn’t Jewish. Carefully and deviously, they were removed from the public sphere of protection and were essentially erased from memory unless thought of as pariahs. Those who helped them were arrested and their families were placed in grave danger. Thus, few helped them. The slippery slope enveloped the lives of the Jews and what was, at first, just one or two simple rules to follow, somehow morphed slowly into an altered universe with yellow stars on their clothing, their belongings confiscated and mass roundups of all Jews as Hitler proceeded with his plan to annihilate all of them, in the countries he conquered. It was his Final Solution. The propaganda was hateful and so people also became hateful and suddenly hated and feared the Jews.
Dita Adler was moved from place to place with her family. First they had to give up their own home and could not take all of their belongings with them. Then they were forced to live with multiple families in small spaces, with no privacy. Then they were sent to labor camps where they were worked to death, starved, experimented upon, and/or murdered systematically. Their world was governed by human “monsters”. Why did the Jews go to the slaughter so meekly, one asks? They thought “it was just the war”, it would soon be over”. They could not comprehend the horror that faced them, nor could most of the other heads of state in the rest of the world, so, little was done to prevent the horror from spreading like wildfire, taking with it million and millions of innocent victims. Hitler’s dream to create the Thousand Year Reich was a nightmare for everyone else involved.
When Dita and her family were sent to Terezin, the model Nazi camp, set up purposely to fool the inspectors, life was different, but manageable. When they were sent to the family camp of Auschwitz, they were not subjected to the same abuse of other arriving Jews, and were allowed to remain together, but they realized that this was not the resettlement promised; no one was fooled any longer. They were poorly dressed, in insufficient housing with little hygiene, and hardly fed. Disease spread in the crowded quarters and in the mornings, the dead were removed. From there they were sent to Bergen Belsen and left to die. There was no hygiene, no bed of any sort and little food. In the face of all the hardship, Jews fought to maintain discipline and decorum. They practiced what good hygiene they could. They created schools in the hope that the children would have a future. They created a library. In their quiet way, they defied Hitler and survived.
This novel is based on Dita’s story, and her experiences are very real and nightmarish. However, the novel is also embellished with the author’s imagination. Still, in fact, it lauds several unsung heroes that fought to maintain dignity, education and normalcy in a place where dignity did not exist, books were forbidden and the word normal no longer had meaning. A student of the Holocaust will recognize many of the names that are mentioned, like Dr. Mengele and Freddy Hirsch whose cause of death in the book is different than the popular belief, but seems to have plausibility after reading the book. Much of the book is really about the day to day effort of Dita Adler, who worked with Hirsch to protect the few precious books of the “library” of sorts, books that the camp prohibited, but the victims salvaged and protected with their lives. The different ways designed to use and hide the forbidden books were ingenious. There are no adequate words, nor will there ever be, to describe the Holocaust and those that supported it. None can do justice to the moment in history when those devils prevailed. There is no way to ever recognize or pay homage to all the innocent souls who suffered under this reign of terror, except to keep their memories alive with books, books that reveal the horror so that we recognize the danger of it recurring and work to prevent it. Books and knowledge are the very keys to humanity’s salvation.
The cover design is pretty, but its youthful appeal may lock out a significant audience. It begs the question, is it a YA novel or an adult novel? It could be both. Regardless, the novel really informs the reader about the family camp at Auschwitz/Birkenow which existed for only 6 months and provided a semblance of normalcy in an unreal and unimaginable world. Why was it destroyed six months after it was created? Was it set up to fool the world as scholars speculate? Was Freddy Hirsch’s death a suicide as ruled? We may never know, but we must also never forget. Jews were chosen, and they need to be proud of that and their many accomplishments. That is what Jews should be remembered for. Hitler and his thugs wanted to murder and/or eliminate as many Jews as they could before the war ended, because in truth, the Nazis were the worst kind of human beings, failures in any other walk of life, they rose through the ranks of the National Socialist Party. Thank G-d, they failed and Jews thrive today. ( )
  thewanderingjew | Jun 23, 2021 |
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"While it lasted, Block 31 (in the Auschwitz extermination camp) was home to five hundred children, together with several prisoners who had been named “counselors.” Despite the strict surveillance they were under and against all odds, the Block housed a clandestine children’s library. It was tiny, consisting of eight books, including A Short History of the World by H. G. Wells, a Russian grammar, and another book on analytical geometry.… At the end of each day, the books, along with other treasures such as medicine and some food, were entrusted to one of the oldest girls, whose task it was to hide them in a different place every night".

ALBERTO MANGUEL, The Library at Night 

"Literature has the same impact as a match lit in the middle of a field in the middle of the night. The match illuminates relatively little, but it enables us to see how much darkness surrounds it.".

WILLIAM FAULKNER, citing Javier Marías
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Auschwitz–Birkenau, January 1944

The Nazi officers are dressed in black.
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Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust. Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz. Out of one of the darkest chapters of human history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope. This title has Common Core connections. Godwin Books

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