Review: The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

James Arbuthnott

The potential in The Librarian of Auschwitz turns from a potential page-turner into a page-counter.
Review: The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe.

Set in the largest and most infamous concentration camp operating during WWII, The Librarian of Auschwitz tells the story of Dita Kraus, the fourteen-year-old girl who archived and distributed a small, secret collection of books among the members of Block 31- the ‘family camp’.

Displaced from her home in Prague, Dita attends a clandestine school run by Fredy Hirsch, a German-born Jew who works tirelessly to defend the lives and hopes of the detained children. Together, the pair conceal eight books in a hidey-hole and transport them in secret pockets sewn into Dita’s dress.

Spanish novelist and journalist, Antonio Iturbe, interviewed Dita in Prague as research for The Librarian of Auschwitz. Now a spritely 80-year-old living in Israel, the story’s real-life heroine keeps busy with regular visits to Prague, and distributing her late husband’s novels about the war.

Iturbe describes the teachers’ worries of being caught with books; whether they should mention the sounds of trains arriving at the camp during lessons – the children knowing exactly where the new arrivals will be going – and why they would even organise a school for children condemned to death. The recurring questions alluding to why the Nazis would even waste their time keeping that many Jews who are unable to work alive at all pervades them in their quest for survival and hope.

Among the books is an atlas and HG Wells’ A Short History of the World, which Dita uses to transport herself to another time and place. The books provide a world past everyday life in the camp for the children who have had every shred or normalcy taken away.

But Iturbe frequently uses unnecessary analogies and metaphors, bluntly telling and not showing the reader what’s happening in the story. Because of this, the factual events and characters, while they deserve to have their story heard, are not given the justice they deserve.

The potential in The Librarian of Auschwitz turns from a potential page-turner into a page-counter that almost holds the reader hostage before it gets to the point.

Published originally in Spanish in 2012, it’s almost as if Macmillan hastily translated and revived The Librarian of Auschwitz to leap for the coattails of 2018’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

It won’t go down in history with the likes of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning or The Diary of Anne Frank.

2 stars ★★
The Librarian of Auschwitz
By Antonio Iturbe translated by Lilit Thwaites 

Pan Macmillan
ISBN: 9781627796187
Format: Hardback
Pub Date: 20/10/2017
Category: Children's, Teenage & educational / Historical fiction (Children's / Teenage)
Teenage & Young Adult Fiction / Young Adult
Imprint: Henry Holt
Pages: 432
Price: $26.99

About the author

James Arbuthnott is a regional journalist in the Campaspe area, Victoria and book reviewer at ArtsHub Australia. Twitter: @we_forgot