Review: The Librarian of Auschwitz: The Graphic Novel

The Librarian of Auschwitz

Based on the novel by Antonio Iturbe, adapted by Salva Rubio, translated by Lilit Žekulin Thwaites, illustrated by Loreto Aroca

Godwin Books, 2023

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Emily Roth

The Librarian of Auschwitz: The Graphic Novel by Salva Rubio is adapted from Antonio Iturbe’s 2017 novel, a fictionalized account of the life of Dita Kraus. When fourteen-year-old Dita is imprisoned in Auschwitz, she is assigned to Camp BIIb, where inmates can keep their own clothes, their heads aren’t shaved, and they can stay with their families. Camp BIIb even has a school for children, where Dita is given a special job due to her ability to speak fluent German and Czech: librarian of eight illegal books. The spark of hope the library provides infuses the rest of the story, even as the threat of Dr. Josef Mengele and his experiments loom over everything, even as Dita witnesses the deaths of her friends and family, and even as the real, devastating purpose behind Camp BIIb is revealed. Loreto Aroca’s evocative illustrations bring Dita’s experience to life, particularly as the color palette shifts to muted and red-tinged tones as the horrors of Auschwitz become reality.

Jewish content is infused naturally throughout the story, as all of the main characters are Jewish. In one particularly effective scene, the residents of Block 31 are given permission to celebrate Passover, and must improvise ingredients for the seder plate to the best of their ability, but the moment of celebration is shrouded by fear when Dr. Mengele appears at the festivities.

The atrocities of the Holocaust are a familiar theme in Jewish literature, but the unique details of Dita’s story and Camp BIIb may surprise some readers, even those well versed in these historical events. Some readers may be left wanting more due to the brevity of this graphic novel, and hopefully they will be inspired to pick up Antonio Iturbe’s original novel to dive even deeper.

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Reviewer Emily Roth (she/her/hers) is a youth services librarian, avid reader, and lifelong Midwesterner. Her short fiction has been published by The Masters Review, Reflex Fiction, Exposition Review, and others. She lives in Chicago with her rescue dog, Obie.