There are a few books that leave an impact on their reader long after they have been read. The Librarian of Auschwitz is one such book. Telling the harrowing and poignant true story of Dita Kraus, a girl in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, this story explores what life was like for Jewish children during the Second World War.
The story explores a unique aspect to life in the concentration camps, the importance of education and books. While most Jews in concentration camps feared for their lives and tried as much as possible to stay out of harm’s way, rightly so, there were few, perhaps just a handful who still went out of their way to ensure a life for the children held in the camps, in the hope that one day they would leave the concentration camp.
Jews forced into entering concentration camps, were not only stripped of all their belongings which were burnt, but even books at the time were not spared. Nazi Germany as a whole, in fact, was at the time strongly against the idea of books created that opposed or differed from their ideologies and policies (Gleichschaltung). In perhaps the largest series of book burning periods in history, Nazi Germany burnt volumes of books with the symbolic intent of “rewriting history”. The intentional inaccessibility of these books to Jewish Children during the holocaust left them oblivious to stories, cultures, and news of the world around them.
For this very purpose, children in the Holocaust, aided by the adults caring for them began to secretly educate themselves by using the few books that Jews snuck into the concentration camps. Consisting of eight books, 12-year-old, Dita Kraus the unofficial librarian of the children’s block was given the responsibility for distributing the books to the different children in her block (31) by the block leader, another Jew named Freddy Hirsche, who felt that children would be suspected far less than adults. Putting her life in danger multiple times to preserve the precious collection of eight books, Dita had several close encounters with the Nazi’s who came close to catching her several times.
Apart from the massively important role that Dita played, the book tells the horrific stories of life in concentration camps with brutal and life-threatening conditions. It tells the stories of the inhumane acts conducted by the Nazi: stories of gas chamber killing hundreds of Jews at once, experiments conducted on humans, and mass genocide. Over the course of the book, stories of her friends and family who she has lost are told and the stories of survivors like her are celebrated.
Stories told by survivors are authentic, and most powerful, for they have the ability to allow the reader to picture events exactly as they lived it. The Librarian of Auschwitz is one such book and is undoubtedly a memorable and captivating read. I strongly recommend it for all teenagers and adults alike interested in knowing more about the Holocaust and the life of Jews during the Second World War.