Ebury signs 'remarkable' novel from Holocaust survivor

Rights - Fiction Wednesday, 06 March 2019

The Children's Block by Otto B Kraus is based on the author's experiences at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Ebury Press has signed The Children's Block by Otto B Kraus, an autobiographical novel based on the author's experiences at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Originally published as The Painted Wall, the book tells the story of 500 Jewish children who lived in the Czech Family Camp in Auschwitz between September 1943 and June 1944. This block was intended to provide the Nazis with an alibi to refute rumours of the Final Solution.

The novel is told from the perspective of Alex Ehren - poet, prisoner and teacher - who 'spends his days trying to survive while illegally giving lessons to his young charges. But trying to teach the children is not the only illicit activity that he is involved in. Alex is keeping a diary...' The book was inspired by the author's own experience in Auschwitz-Birkenau where he was a teacher on the children's block.

Gillian Green, Ebury fiction publishing director, bought world rights (including TV & film) from Otto Kraus' wife, Dita Kraus, herself an Auschwitz survivor and the subject of The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe, which Ebury will publish in April. Ebury will publish The Children's Block in paperback original on 19 September, priced £8.99.

Green said: "It was through learning about Dita in Antonio's astonishing novel that I first heard about Otto's novel. There have been many novels set in Auschwitz but it's rare to have one with such an authentic voice, written by someone who lived through the same atrocities as their characters. It's truly an honour for us at Ebury to be publishing this powerful novel and to be able to bring it to a wider readership."

Otto Kraus started writing fiction after the war and his novels have been published in the US, Israel, Germany, France and the Czech Republic; though it was many years before he felt able to write about the children's block. The Painted Wall was first published in Czech as Muj bratr dým, (Smoke is My Brother) and in English as The Painted Wall by a small press in Israel.

Dita Kraus writes: "The idea for the novel about the children's block came from a friend, Harry T. who also was a counsellor there. First Otto travelled all over Israel to meet former inmates, making notes of their memories. He discovered that a far greater percentage of those who worked with the children survived, than of the rest of the prisoners. Otto's conclusion was that they had a mission which gave them strength and stamina. They overcame their own fears to alleviate that of others. They suppressed their dread of death and dedicated themselves to the children."

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