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 is one of those books that you know going in, that it’s not going to be a light read. It’s taking place in one of the darkest places in history, where some of humanities most horrible acts occurred.
We’re brought into “the family camp”, Block 31, in Auschwitz, the only unit in the camp where there were children. They were allowed to sing and play, but learning was forbidden. However, they continue to educate themselves, having worked out codes to let them know when Nazi officers are coming to check on things. When certain things were called out, they knew who was coming and were able to hide the few little books that they had. Dita is our librarian and constantly risks her life to hide and keep the tomes safe. Eight little books…but the idea of what would become of all of them if discovered is a fear that is rife throughout the book and also one you feel struck into your heart as you sit reading. To have experienced it in person must have been terrifying.
Whilst there were moments that make you smile, they are laced with the harsh reminders of that this was a place where people were going to die. And they were going to be killed in a harsh, horrible manner in the hopes that they would never be thought of again. So many lives….and they were taken for what? One man’s hatred. That is the only reason.
This is labelled as a Young Adult book but quite frankly, I think everyone should read this. It’s beautifully written and extremely haunting. It reminds me of how I felt when I visited the National Holocaust Museum when I was 14, Dita’s age in the book. It is a solemn place, one where you reflect on how good your life is and how horrific it must have been to be persecuted for being a Jew or anyone that didn’t fit Hitler’s ideal of a perfect Aryan. It shakes some part of your core and stays with you. It’s been 17 years since I was there, but I will never forget some of the things I saw and read there. I hope to return some day so I can remember it better, firstly, and because it’s something I find that we can’t forget.
Reading this book will expand your mind and break your heart and twist your soul. You may feel uncomfortable at times but I urge you to stick with it. You’ll be all the better for having read this. I promise you that. It’s sometimes easy to forget that an atrocity like the Holocaust happened. But we can’t and we shouldn’t. It’s disrespectful to those who have passed on and to those who remain here still.
Also, keep some tissues handy. Just a friendly note. I truly must commend Antonio Iturbe for his beautiful writing and to his translator, Lilit Thwaites, so we could understand!
“There will be those who do not share this fascination because some have risked their lives to keep a secret school and a clandestine library open in Auschwitz-Birkenau. There will always be those who think that it was an act of worthless courage in an extermination camp, when there are other pressing concerns: books do not cure diseases, nor can they be used as weapons to defeat an army of executioners, do not fill the stomach nor quench thirst. It is true: culture is not necessary for the survival of man, bread and water suffice. It is true that with bread to eat and water to drink man survives, but only with this dies the whole humanity. If man is not moved by beauty, if he does not close his eyes and set in motion the mechanisms of the imagination; if he is not able to interrogate himself and glimpse the limits of his ignorance, he is a man or a woman, but he is not a person ; nothing distinguishes it from a salmon, a zebra or a musk ox. “
I’d give it ★★★★★ stars.
- I received a copy of this in exchange for my fair and honest review.
- I would recommend this to a friend. 100%!
If you’d like to hear more about Dita, I found this video about her. In 2014 she was a a torchlighter on Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day.