The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe was the April book chosen for a book club I lead with a few other women.
TRIGGER WARNING: derogatory terms for people with development disabilities and Romani, extremely graphic descriptions of people who were gassed, descriptions of medical experimentation, torture, disposing of dead bodies, suicide
Today is Yom HaShoah, which translates to Holocaust Remembrance Day. This is an especially important day to my family, like many other Jewish families around the world, since my father was a Holocaust survivor from Poland. He would speak about his experiences as often as possible, believing it was his duty to educate people about this dark time in history, in order to hopefully prevent this from ever occurring again.
Based on the experiences of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked everything to preserve the legacy and vital knowledge of books during the Holocaust.
As a young girl, Dita is imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken from her home in Prague in 1939, Dita does her best to adjust to the constant terror of her new reality. But even amidst horror, human strength and ingenuity persevere. When Jewish leader Fredy Hirsch entrusts Dita with eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak into the camp, she embraces the responsibility — and so becomes the librarian of Auschwitz.
From one of the darkest chapters in history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope.
The character development was completely lacking in this book. The perspective shifted constantly between characters, although Dita’s was the POV that occurred most frequently. Even with the large number of characters, none were really delved into, and didn’t really develop throughout the book.
The first thing I noticed was that the story takes place in both the present and in flashbacks. Normally this isn’t an issue for me, although in this book the switch wasn’t always clear, and ended up being confusing.
The writing itself was very simple, almost as though it was geared towards children. The housing was always referred to as “huts,” even though the housing was actually just barracks and converted stables. Maybe this was an error in translation?
This is labeled as a YA book, but I felt that it should be intended for an adult audience. There were incredibly graphic descriptions of the violence that occurred in Auschwitz (and other camps). I’m normally a pretty unflappable reader, well out of my YA years, and these descriptions came across as merely gratuitous, rather than serving an actual purpose. There was plenty of subject matter that was inappropriate for a YA audience, including profanity that I don’t see in YA books.
The biggest issue for me, by far, is the way the author misappropriated Jewish culture and totally misrepresented it. I was raised and continue to practice the Jewish religion, and my father was a stickler for explaining the purpose behind each and every tradition. The way the author portrayed customs surrounding Passover were completely erroneous, and while I picked up on this immediately and was shocked, readers who don’t know about Jewish holidays and the way they are practiced may not even realize there’s a glaring problem.
“On the first night of Passover, families usually gather around the table and read the Haggadah, which tells of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.”
This part is right, although Jewish families do this on not only the first night, but also the second.
“The last supper Jesus shared with his disciples was a celebration of Seder, and the Christian Eucharist arose from this Jewish rite. Ota Keller explains all this to his group of children and not one of them misses a word: Religious traditions and the traditional meal are sacred to them.”
The events in the Jewish bible, and the traditions associated with holidays FAR predate Jesus, and Jesus plays literally ZERO ROLE in Jewish religious traditions. Not once, not for any holiday. Discussing the Christian Eucharist would not ever occur at the Seder table. This is a blatant example of how the author clearly misappropriated Jewish culture. Especially since the Eucharist wine symbolizes Christ’s blood, and consuming any blood is a violation of Jewish laws.
The Holocaust was propagated on the beliefs that Jews and other “undesirables” were different in some way from the perfect Aryan race. The author furthers that belief:
“…his personality was a combination of German and Jewish traits …”
This statement is problematic in 2 ways — Jews from Germany WERE GERMANS. Also, personality traits aren’t dependent on ethnic background OR religious beliefs.
The story was long, drawn out, and disorganized. After reading 400+ pages of material, there was an epilogue, a postscript, and a section describing what happened to a select few characters. I personally took offense to the way that one of the Jewish characters “baptized” a child with a specific name. JEWS DO NOT BAPTIZE CHILDREN. We name them, and this is an oversight that should have been glaringly obvious to anyone who did any amount of research on the Jewish religion.
The only positive thing that I’m able to say about this book is that the author clearly did his research on Block 31 and some key events that occurred in Auschwitz.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m one of the leaders of a book club who was able to read material this heavy at the present time, I would have DNF’d this book early on. I still wish I had. There’s no shortage of literature pertaining to the Holocaust. For the YA population, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry and The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank are high on my list of recommendations. I also feel that Night by Elie Wiesel and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl are incredible books that address the Holocaust in a factual, straightforward manner without feeling the need to add irrelevant information or excessively graphic information for shock value.
Categories: Book Review