The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe (tr. by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites) #BookReview #BlogTour

For readers of The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Choice: this is the story of the smallest library in the world – and the most dangerous.

'It wasn’t an extensive library. In fact, it consisted of eight books and some of them were in poor condition. But they were books. In this incredibly dark place, they were a reminder of less sombre times, when words rang out more loudly than machine guns…’

Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the TerezĂ­n 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 books the prisoners have managed to smuggle past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the secret librarian of Auschwitz, responsible for the safekeeping of the small collection of titles, as well as the ‘living books’ - prisoners of Auschwitz who know certain books so well, they too can be ‘borrowed’ to educate the children in the camp.

But books are extremely dangerous. They make people think. And nowhere are they more dangerous than in Block 31 of Auschwitz, the children’s block, where the slightest transgression can result in execution, no matter how young the transgressor…

I'm honoured to be hosting the blog tour for The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe today. Many thanks to the author, Ebury Press and Tracy Fenton for inviting me and for my digital copy of the novel, received through Netgalley.

Although I believe it is absolutely vital that we remain educated about the Holocaust, I'm always a little unsure when it comes to reading fiction about what is often described as almost unimaginable horror. It concerns me that in fictionalising events in a concentration camp, there is a risk of minimising or even romanticising what truly happened there. I was reassured however, before reading The Librarian of Auschwitz that Dita Kraus - whose true story, the book is based on - has written an introduction to  Antonio Iturbe's novel, recognising its historical correctness despite never claiming to be anything other than a fictionalised account of real-life events. At the end of the book, the author also movingly describes how he came to meet Dita and as he says, 'The bricks used to construct this story are facts, and they are held together in these pages with a mortar of fiction.'
The Librarian of Auschwitz opens in January 1944 and fourteen-year-old Dita Adler has been a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau since December. On arrival they were told about a secret school established by one of the inmates, Fredy Hirsch, a former youth sports instructor. He has managed to convince the camp authorities that keeping the children entertained in what becomes known as Block 31 would make it easier for their parents to work in the 'family camp' they have been assigned to. In this place where everything is forbidden, school is banned, of course but still teachers whisper lessons to their classes and without blackboards, trace letters, shapes and even geographical features with their hands in the air. Dita is a year too old to join the school but some older children have been taken on as assistants. She is offered the position of librarian, a role she accepts despite being aware that to be found in possession of even one book would result in the SS executing her. This tiny library has just eight books, some in poor condition but in those worst of times they became a beacon of light and hope for Dita and the children and teachers of Block 31.
Dita's story isn't told in a linear fashion; over the course of the novel she casts her mind back to her cut-short childhood, remembering the all too brief moments of innocence before the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia and then the increasing hostility towards Jews which sees her father lose his job, the family removed from their home and eventually summoned out of Prague to move to the Jewish ghetto of Terezin where they live until they are transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. Although her memories arguably interrupt the flow of the main story, I felt they were vital and allowed us a poignant look at just how quickly the lives of these ordinary people changed.
While Dita is the main character in the book, there are also chapters devoted to other prisoners of the camp - most of whom were real-life inmates and I'm sure I won't be the only reader who will be inspired to research more about their lives. It's an essential reminder that each and every person who was sent to a concentration camp had their own stories, some of which we have learned since but many were lost to the ashes that found their final resting place in this hell on earth. Antonio Iturbe never flinches from writing about the harrowing brutality of life in Auschwitz, from the murder of the millions who were gassed, to the sickening violence perpetrated by camp guards, to the acts of desperation which saw inmates turn on one another as they struggled to survive.
However, despite the horror that is described so vividly within these pages, there remains hope and even beauty. Whether it is through Dita's care of her books and the moments where they bring even just an instant of happiness to a person's life or through the small acts of kindness and courage which still prevailed even at the most terrifying moments, The Librarian of Auschwitz is a compelling reminder of the dichotomy of humanity -  unforgivable evil and the most extraordinary bravery existing side by side. There are points in the book where the author's own voice becomes more obvious and I can imagine that some people will prefer him to have remained in the background but I can understand why he can't let some scenes go without commenting on the atrocity of the sheer scale of the Nazis' Final Solution.
The Librarian of Auschwitz isn't an easy read and nor should it be. There were moments in the book where I had to stop reading as I couldn't see the words on the page with the tears running down my face. Over the years, I've read a lot about the Holocaust so I wasn't surprised by the death and violence but it always remains shocking - as it should, we must never become immune to what happened during one of the most shameful periods of our history. It's not a novel to enjoy but I do feel immensely privileged to have learned about Dita's bravery - as Antonio Iturbe writes in his touching afterword, 'Until now, I hadn't believed in heroes, but I now know they exist: Dita is one of them.'

The Librarian of Auschwitz is published in the UK by Ebury Press, purchasing links can be found here.

Don't miss the other stops on the blog tour, details are 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.

About the Translator
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

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.


  1. Thank you for the sharing this story with us. I can't wait to read the novel.

    1. Thank you so much for reading my review of this harrowing yet important story.

  2. I have just sent this link to a friend of mine...
    He loaned me a book recently..The Tattooist of Auschwitz..
    First book l've read this year, l'm afraid l don't read books..
    'Patience' or the lack of've never read any of the
    major authors..shame l know, but there it is..Jokingly l always
    say.."I'll wait for the film"...
    But! The subject matter..Auschwitz is of interest to me, there's
    a series on this week at 6 o'clock on the Yesterday channel, called
    Thankyou for your time.....

    1. My husband says the same thing about books! Still, it'd be a boring world if we all liked the same things. Thank you for sending the link to your friend and for letting me know about the series on Yesterday, I've already set up a reminder.


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