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Monday, August 26, 2013

The Best Overdue Books Ever

I stumbled across a story last week which I've been waiting to share with you. An unlikely librarian in Lithuania is a new heroine of mine; that is, this unlikely librarian and her concocted story of some very important overdue books.
Ona Simaite
Ona Simaite was born January 6, 1894 (some sources say 1899) in Akmenė, Lithuania. She worked at Vilnius University as a librarian and literary critic. The Nazi occupation of Lithuania began in 1940 and she saw the horrors of the Nazis up close. Simaite decided to act. She convinced the Nazis that Jewish students living in the ghettos had overdue library books that needed to be returned to the library. (Never underestimate the fear and awe that an overdue library book strikes in the hearts of men.) Once she had gained access to the Jewish ghetto, she brought in much needed supplies for the people trapped inside and brought out historical documents and texts for preservation purposes. She was finally found out in 1944 and captured by the Nazis. They tortured her and sentenced her to death. She escaped this fate when colleagues and others at her university spoke in her behalf. She was sent instead to the concentration camp in Dachau, and then later, to one in France. Simaite survived the war and died in Israel in 1970. She was designated Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1966.

This story just goes to show what a librarian with a strong purpose, a determined spirit, and a threat of some overdue books can do. If you'd like to learn more about this incredible woman, check out the book Epistolophilia by Julija Šukys. It's at the top of my to-read list.

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