Antonio Iturbe on the 2018 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour is taking place February 4-8, 2018. Today, one of the blog tour stops is here at The Book of Life! We are interviewing Antonio Iturbe, author of Teen Readers Category winner, The Librarian of Auschwitz. English is not Antonio's first language, so it was very kind of him to tackle these questions for me!

How did you learn about the library in Auschwitz and why did you choose to write about it?

The way I found this story was by following threads in books. Reading expert Alberto Manguel wrote a book called The Library at Night, in which he talked about the most famous libraries in history: Alexandria, the Library of Congress… and in one chapter, in just a few lines, he mentioned that in the Children’s Block in the Auschwitz Camp there was a small, clandestine library of just eight books. Then I found more information in the book of the American Holocaust expert Nili Keren: Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp. It was the beginning. I wanted to know more and more and in a certain moment I decided to explain the story because it is astonishing to find library in the exact center of hell.

This library had only 8 books. Why was the library so important?

It was small in the number of books, but great as a symbol. In a time of basic survival, some people had the courage and generosity to organize a secret school and even a little library. A school in the middle of the horror of Auschwitz is a strong way of rebelling.

What was it like to meet Dita Kraus, the real librarian of Auschwitz? What does Dita think of your book?

To meet Dita Kraus has been one of the most important things to happen in my life. She is an upright woman with a special energy. She is marvelous. About the book, she scolded me as if I were a kid, because she said I exaggerated her role and courage; and she is very insistent in specifying that she did not do anything different than other inmates. She is a very humble person.

Dita Kraus and Antonio Iturbe

Your book is not entirely nonfiction. Can you talk about the parts you made up, and why you chose to do that?

The book is not a biography. It is fiction. We need the lie of fiction for arriving at a deeper truth. History books are full of numbers, dates, and facts, but they do not explain anything about the pain, the hopes or the dreams of the people. All of the main characters in the book are real (except one, that is my voice in the novel). Big facts and characters are the bricks of reality in the book, and fiction is the cement that unites them.

Auschwitz is a difficult topic to write about. Were there positive things that came out of writing this book?

I think is positive that people can know the story of the Block 31 the Family Camp now. They risked their lives to build a school for kids. I am happy with my little contribution to keep alive the memory of those wonderful people who never gave up hope.

Antonio, thank for this interview and congratulations again on receiving the Sydney Taylor Book Award!