About The Book
‘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 Terezín 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…
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. I have read books about Auschwitz before but never one that was based on the life of a survivor. I have never thought about how little water was given, how a potato peel was a luxury food, how there was no soap, and no books. The few books that Dita looked after were probably not ones many would be eager to read, but when you have nothing and want to think about something different to the predicament you are in they would be vital. I knew that I would like Dita when she reminded Freddy at the beginning of the novel that it was pointless trying to stop her reading one of the novels in her library because of what she witnessed on a daily basis.
It’s heart wrenching, I can’t remember the last time I was researching characters as I read, needing to know more about them. The books I have read before that are similar, now feel sanitised after reading this. Like the reader had been protected from what had occurred. The numbers quoted concerning the executions and the number of trains that arrived had me in tears many times. Along with a brief scene towards the end of the novel when another well known victim was mentioned.
But, I was astonished how the prisoners managed to stay positive. There were references to the life they had before internment, but no bitterness. Just fear and a determination to see another day. Even the ones who knew they were going to the gas chambers stayed dignified and proud.
The scenes that involved the children and the books will stay with me. I will never be able to listen to Ode To Joy or Alouette without thinking of this book. The passion of the teachers who would read to the children, especially the living books which were read from memory.