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Review of The Librarian of Auschwitz

The Librarian of Auschwitz
by Antonio Iturbe; trans. from the Spanish by Lilit Žekulin Thwaites
High School    Godwin/Holt    424 pp.
10/17    978-1-62779-618-7    $19.99

January 1944: “In this life-destroying factory that is Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the ovens burn corpses day and night, Block 31 is atypical, an anomaly.” It’s where the children in camp BIIb, or the “family camp,” are kept busy so their parents can work more efficiently — or so the Nazis think; in reality, the prisoners are running a school. Even more extraordinary, the school has a librarian: fourteen-year-old Edita Adlerova (based on a real person), in charge of eight precious, forbidden books and more “living” ones — teachers who tell the children stories they know by heart. Iturbe’s remarkable account uses an immediate present tense to immerse readers in Dita’s story as she goes about what constitutes daily life in Auschwitz, all the while risking everything to distribute and hide the library’s books. Iturbe centers books as well, often pausing to relate the plots of the ones Dita reads (e.g., H. G. Wells’s A Short History of the World); these seem like tangents but in fact serve to reinforce one of the novel’s themes: that books save lives. Unlike many Holocaust accounts, where the death camps in their unimaginable horror can feel separate from real, everyday life, here Iturbe continually and crucially reminds readers that Auschwitz happened in the real world: we get dates and hard facts (“During the night of the 8th of March, 1944, 3,792 prisoners from the family camp BIIb were gassed and then incinerated in Crematorium III of Auschwitz-Birkenau”); we follow many other people’s narratives — including a few who escape the camp. An epilogue tells of the protagonist’s life after liberation; back matter includes a “postscript” describing the author’s meeting with the real Dita (married name Kraus) when she was eighty, information about the fates of other people from the story, and a list of primary sources consulted. The front and back endpapers are maps of the concentration camp in 1944.

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.



  1. So sad. My father was in birkenau auwshwitz before being sent to mauthausen/ Melk and Ebensee. That my father survived was a miracle. There are so many haters and so many people who believe the Holocaust in the media proves jewish control of the media. I deal with anti semitism in one form of another every day at work. The anger is so out there. If i were to speak out I am sure I would have even more difficulties.

  2. Thank you for highlighting the resilience of humans living under the most extreme circumstances. This provides a very hopeful message in a time when so many are losing hope.

  3. Holly King says:

    I am a history buff. I will certainly read this book. The one question that always runs through my head is why, why the Jewish people? Why are Jewish people the target of so much hatred. I am not Jewish but the question plagues me. I suppose it falls in the same category of with all the facts, evidence and testimonies that there are still people who claim the Holocaust never happened. Too much time is spent hating people in this world. For those of you who need to hate someone or something, know this “hate is fear”. You fear what you hate. So why do people have such fear of the Jewish people? All cultures have committed crimes against humanity its not limited to the Jews. Perhaps the day will come when we admit our weakest points identify our fears and release the hatred that seems to occupy the minds of so many.

  4. Unbelievable horrors of the death camps. We had a friend from WW2 that helped Liberate one of the camps, he was part of Patton’s officers. Don said it literally etched his mind for life. My fathers family were from Serbia, they locked the Serb women and children in churches and burned them to the ground. Too much hate. How can one group of people the Jews be so reviled when the Christians Messiah comes from them.

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