The library as resistance

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

Machiavelli reads

At the end of the fifteenth century, to exercise his memory among the books he knew best, Niccolo Machiavelli preferred to read in his study at night-the time when he found it easiest to enjoy those qualities which for him most defined the relationship of a reader and his books: intimacy and leisured thought. “When evening comes,” he wrote, “I return home and go into my study. On the threshold I strip off my muddy, sweaty, workday clothes, and put on the robes of court and palace, and in this graver dress I enter the antique courts of the ancients and am welcomed by them, and there I taste the food that alone is mine, for which I was born. There I make bold to speak to them and ask the motives for their actions, and they, in their humanity, reply to me. And for the course of four hours I forget the world, remember no vexations, fear poverty no more, tremble no more at death: I pass into their world.”

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

Pope Clement VII and Michelangelo correspond over the Laurentian Library

The correspondence between him and Michelangelo, from the beginning of the building of the library to its completion, bears witness to his detailed preoccupation. For three full
years, from 1523 to 1526, Pope Clement in Rome and Michelangelo in Florence exchanged letters three or four times a week. In letter after letter, Clement suggested to Michelangelo-though papal suggestions carried the weight of orders-all manner of arrangements and dispositions: that the Latintexts be separated from the Greek, that rare books be kept in small individual cabinets, that the foundations of the building be reinforced, that the ceiling be vaulted to help prevent fires. With
nagging concern, he insisted on knowing everything: how many desks Michelangelo was planning for the reading room, how many books could be kept on each desk, where Michelangelo intended to obtain the walnut for the tables and by what process the wood was to be treated. He offered opinions on everything, from the design of the doors to the importance of the lighting, on where the best travertine could be found to make lime and how many coats of stucco should be applied to the walls. Most of the time, Michelangelo responded readily and diplomatically, sometimes accepting these suggestions and sometimes ignoring them completely.”

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel