Originally published: 4 April 2019
Author: Antonio Iturbe (Translated by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites)
Published by: Ebury Press
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 432 pages
Reading dates: 10-14 April 2019
This is the true story of 14 year old Dita Kraus who was held in Block 31 (the family camp) at Auschwitz-Birkenau along with her mother and father during World War 2. Her family and 5000 other prisoners were transported there from the Terezín ghetto and the camp was unusual in that the children survived – children were generally sent to the gas chambers on arrival at Auschwitz. The children’s block, which was run by Fredy Hirsch was a secret school for the children of Auschwitz, a place where they could escape the SS guards. If the guards approached then the children switched from learning to games or singing German songs. By no means was life easy but in all the time Fredy ran the children’s block, no children were lost to illness or starvation which is remarkable.
Dita was given the job of the librarian – at 14 she was too old to be considered a child so Hirsch tried to give as many “jobs” to teenagers as possible. Only 8 books existed in the camp, including A Short History of the World by H G Wells, an atlas, a book about geometry, a book on Russian grammar, a French novel, a book by Freud, a book in Czech and a scandalous book called The Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk. Books were considered to be dangerous by the Nazi’s and by being the one responsible for them, Dita was in extreme danger.
Dita was interviewed by Spanish author Antonio Iturbe and much of the book is about her and her horrific experiences but we also hear about others in the camp, including Fredy, Rudi Rosenberg who was the camp registrar and SS guard Viktor Pestek.
This is not an easy read – most of what is detailed is truly horrific. But I learnt a lot as well which is what I like to take from novels such as these. I knew nothing about the Jewish Terezín ghetto, which was essentially a concentration camp and holding station for Jews before they were sent to extermination camps – approximately 141,000 Jews were sent there during the course of the war. I also found out more about Josef Mengele, the SS officer and doctor who performed deadly human experiments on prisoners, and whom Dita had personal contact with, at one point thinking he had singled her out.
An emotional and harrowing read, I would certainly recommend it to those who enjoyed (feels like the wrong word to use!) The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Cut Out Girl. However difficult these books are to read, I feel we owe it to all the people who suffered and died to remember what happened to them.
Many thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me on the blog tour. Be sure to checkout the other stops below:
About the author:
Antonio Iturbe lives in Spain, where he is both a novelist and a journalist. In researching The Librarian of Auschwitz, he interviewed Dita Kraus, the real-life librarian of Auschwitz. Lilit Zekulin Thwaites is an award-winning literary translator. After thirty years as an academic at La Trobe University in Australia, she retired from teaching and now focuses primarily on her ongoing translation and research projects. Dita Kraus was born in Prague. In 1942, when Dita was thirteen years old , she and her parents were deported to Ghetto Theresienstadt and later to Auschwitz. Neither of Dita’s parents survived. After the war Dita married the author Otto B. Kraus. They emigrated to Israel in 1949, where they both worked as teachers They had three children. Since Otto’s death in 2000 , Dita lives alone in Netanya. She has four grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Despite the horrors of the concentration camps, Dita has kept her positive approach to life.