‘ll admit I watch Handmaidens Tale and The Man in the High Castle, stories of fascism and purging that comes to our own United States. And always, as I see the political hero worshiping and the insurrection of January 6th, I think Yes, it could happen here. But that’s still only a possibility, of course, a worst-case fantasy. But if you really want to know what it’s like, and what this powder keg near which our own monkeys play with their matches, The Librarian of Auschwitz gives you a full, total accounting of a state gone mad.
This is the story of Dita Kraus, a young Czechoslovakian girl who watches the Nazis march into Prague, who suffers as they are forced out of their house with a single suitcase each, moved first to a ghetto and then to Auschwitz, the death camp. There, the Nazis are setting up a children’s block so that kids can play and receive schooling (with a thought that the Red Cross might stop in and this would be a fine way to show how nice they are, just as long as they keep them away from the crematoriums). Of course, Dr. Mengele is stalking about, pulling identical twins and other unfortunates into his nearby lab, to see if dye injections could turn your eyes blue (and other, far worse, experiments). But otherwise, there is the slow starvation, the overwork, the brutish cruelty and the ash-fuming chimneys that is Auschwitz.
During this time, Dita takes on a tough assignment. Eight books have been smuggled in and someone needs to care for them, seeing that they are distributed to the requesting teachers, that they are collected each night, and that the Nazis don’t find them (an instant death sentence). She does this by having someone sew inner pockets into her prisoner smock so she can move them around. So she continues with her duties, even with Mengele showing an interest in her, even with members of her block being gassed on a methodical schedule.
Soon her father dies and she and her mother are moved (escaping death during one culling) to other camps. Finally Germany, bombarded from the air and ringed with enemy armies, begins to collapse and the camps become a hellscape of starvation and abandonment. Finally a British unit breaks the gate of the camp and is horrified by the atrocities they discover.
The Librarian of Auschwitz is a very difficult read for anyone with any empathy, a clear example of what happens when states become crazed with purging and bloodshed. The fact that Auschwitz is argued by those with a seemingly fascist agenda (only seventy-five years after it’s documented existence) is nothing short of evil. You cannot simply wave history away (Critical Race Theory opponents, take note). You should read history, fully understand it, and never forget it.