Seven months after these directives were given, in September 1943, the Nazis set up a “family camp” as an extension of the Auschwitz precinct, in the birch forest of Birkenau, which included a separate block, “number 31,” built especially for children. It was designed to serve as proof to the world that Jews deported to the east were not being killed. In fact, they were allowed to live six months before being sent on to the same fate as the other deported victims. Eventually, having served its purpose as propaganda, the “family camp” was permanently closed.”‘While it lasted, Block 31 housed up to five hundred children together with several prisoners appointed
“counsellors,” and in spite of the severe surveillance it possessed, against all expectations, a clandestine children’s library. The library was minuscule; it consisted of eight books, which included H.G. Wells’s A Short History of the World, a Russian school textbook and an analytical geometry text. Once or twice an inmate from another camp managed to smuggle in a new book, so that the
number of holdings rose to nine or ten. At the end of each day, the books, together with other valuables such as medicines and bits of food, would be entrusted to one of the older girls, whose responsibility it was to hide them in a different place every night.
The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel