The Librarian of Auschwitz

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
The Librarian of Auschwitz Book Poster Image
Unforgettable story of a teen heroine of the Holocaust.

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Along with Elie Wiesel's Night, this is one of the few books about the Holocaust that views it through the eyes of a teenager. Reader's are drawn inside what has become normal daily life for Dita -- standing for hours in freezing cold to be inspected by the guards, dead bodies carried away from her barracks like so much trash, hunger that never goes away, the senseless brutality of the guards. Inside the novel's front and back covers are aerial photographs of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp taken in August and September 1944 that show the locations of the gas chambers, prisoner barracks, guard towers, and crematorium. So readers can put a face to the librarian of Block 31, a photo of a teenage Dita Kraus (wearing a sweater with a yellow star) is included in her letter to readers at the beginning of the book.

Positive Messages

In the most violent and terrifying times, there will be people of all ages who show great courage and compassion and are willing to sacrifice themselves for others.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Filled with acts of kindness, generosity, and bravery from characters living in circumstances that could easily have led them to make choices that would benefit only themselves. Parents give up their own incredibly meager rations (a crust of bread as dinner) so their children will have even a tiny bit of extra food. Although it's forbidden, prisoners organize and teach at a secret school for the children. Small gifts are given: a precious piece of soap and a celery stick. Dita and her friends encourage and support one another -- something that sounds so simple but demands an incredible amount of emotional strength. At only 14, Dita could easily have declared herself too young to be the librarian, but she fearlessly took on the responsibility.

Violence

Death, the threat of death, and unimaginable cruelty are a constant presence. Some things (how people died in the gas chamber, how their bodies were removed, a hanging) are graphically described. Beatings, executions, and deaths by disease or starvation happen daily. Auschwitz's "Doctor Death," Joseph Mengele, is a character in the novel, and although few of his  experiments on adults and children are written about in detail, even references to them (doing live autopsies, injecting typhus into children, cutting open pregnant women with no anesthetic) may be extremely disturbing to some readers.

Sex

It's mentioned that some women prisoners will trade sex for extra food for themselves or their children. One woman is groped and fondled by a guard.

Language

Used only once or twice: "f--k," "damn," "hell" and "bitch."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigarettes are so prized that they are used as currency in Auschwitz. Several characters smoke forbidden cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Librarian of Auschwitz is a novel based on the real-life experiences of Czech teen Dita Kraus, who was a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp. At age 14, Dita was entrusted with one of the most dangerous clandestine jobs in the camp. She was chosen to protect the precious and forbidden eight books that prisoners had smuggled into Auschwitz. Books that would be used in the secret school created by prisoners for the children of Block 31. The novel moves from Dita and her family's privileged life in Prague to Auschwitz and then to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The violence is sometimes graphic (how people died in the gas chamber, how their bodies were removed, a hanging, mentions of the medical experiments of Dr. Mengele) and the threat of it is ever present as people are beaten, starve to death, and get taken off to the gas chambers. In preparation for writing the novel, author Antonio Iturbe met with and interviewed Dita Kraus, who survived the camps and now lives in Israel.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byF M February 27, 2018
There is a lot of talk about sex. It’s is often traded as a commodity. Women are assaulted and fondeled. Adult consensual sex is mentioned both homosexual and... Continue reading
Adult Written bymoiself December 27, 2017

Excellent book, but may be too intense for many readers

My 14-year-old son picked up this book from the library--he really enjoyed it and recommended it to me, so I also read it. The story is based on the true life... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old February 1, 2018

Well-written, moving story about the Holocaust best for teens

I’m not even finished with this book yet and I think it’s wonderful! I’m on page 313 right now and decided I was far enough along to write a review. One day I w... Continue reading

What's the story?

Before she became THE LIBRARIAN OF AUSCHWITZ , Dita Kraus lived a comfortable life with her parents in Prague. Now, in 1944, she and her parents are in a special section of Auschwitz called the Family Camp. In Block 31 of the camp, a secret school for children has been established. As books are forbidden, the school must rely on eight books that have been smuggled into the camp: a geometry textbook, H.G. Wells' Short History of the World, a Russian grammar, a novel written in Russian, The Count of Monte Cristo, Freud's New Paths to Psychoanalytic Thought, and Dita's favorite, The Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk. Under the watchful eye of the leader of Block 31, Fredy Hirsch, it's Dita's job to keep the books safe, storing them each night in a secret compartment. Secrets and unanswered questions are at the heart of the novel. What is Fredy hiding, and could he possibly be a traitor? Can Renee trust the SS guard who promises her freedom? Why is Dr. Mengele so interested in Dita? As for what becomes of families once they are rounded up and taken from the Family Camp, that's not a secret. An epilogue let's readers know how Dita's life unfolded after she was liberated from Bergen-Belsen.

Is it any good?

This is a haunting, heartbreaking, and unforgettable Holocaust story -- a powerful testament to the courage of a teen girl who risked her life to preserve eight forbidden books. Even teens who don't love reading or share Dita's passion for books are sure to be caught up in a gripping storyline that features secret meetings, a possible traitor, daring escapes, and even romance.

Fact and fiction are blended so seamlessly in The Librarian of Auschwitz that some readers may have difficulty recognizing which characters are real and which are fictional. To make sure readers can identify the real-life characters in the novel, there's a "What Happened To …" section at the back of the book. It reveals the fate of both Nazis (Dr. Mengele, Adolf Eichmann, and camp Kommandant Rudolf Hoss) and prisoners (Dita's best friend, Margit Barnai, and Resistance leader David Schmulewski). A postscript discusses the controversy surrounding the mysterious death of Fredy Hirsch. Whether teens have read widely about the Holocaust or are just beginning to learn about this period in history, the story of Dita Kraus is a must read.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the strong bonds between parents and children that are part of The Librarian of Auschwitz. Can you imagine you and your family going through what Dita and her parents experienced?

  • What other books or movies about the Holocaust have you read or watched? Why is it important to remember and learn about this period in history?

  • Dita risked her life to protect eight books. Do you think that was heroic or reckless?

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