TITLE: The Tattooist of Auschwitz
AUTHOR: Heather Morris
PAGE COUNT: 227 pages
PUBLISHER: Bonnier Publishing Australia
PUBLICATION DATE: 27 January 2018
GENRE: Historical Fiction
SYNOPSIS: In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.
Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.
One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.
A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions
A few weeks back, I finished this book in the early afternoon and for the rest of the day, I was so incredibly heartbroken. As I am writing this, tears are clouding my vision and I cannot help but think of all the horrors the main character, Lale, faced. The amount of respect I have for him and Gita is indescribable. My heart literally aches with all the emotions running through it. Their story is one I shall always remember.
This book, despite the horrendous events, was a book I could quickly get through. I am the kind of bookworm who believes every book has something you can learn from. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a story that expanded not only my knowledge but also the world around me. All of us live in a tiny world of our own but when realisation of the world around us hits, it can be unbelievably overwhelming.
What people have to go through, not just in the past but today and everyday, breaks my heart. This book is one that makes you realise you should be grateful for all the small things in life and that you are free to live the way you want to.
…he responds with words of encouragement, trying to turn their fear into hope. We stand in shit but let us not drown in it.
He grasps his arm, staring at the number. How can someone do this to another human being? He wonders if for the rest of his life, be it short or long, he will be defined by this moment, this irregular number: 32407.
Lale shakes his head. ‘This number wouldn’t have been my first choice of tattoo.’
‘What would you have preferred?’ asks Pepan.
Lale smiles slyly.
‘What’s her name?’
‘My sweetheart? I don’t know. We haven’t met yet.’
Through the noise of construction, dogs barking and guards shouting, Pepan leans forward and asks, ‘Are you as strong in character as you are physically?’
Lale returns Pepan’s gaze.
‘I’m a survivor.’
‘Your strength can be a weakness, given the circumstances we find ourselves in. Charm and an easy smile will get you in trouble.’
‘I am a survivor.’
Pepan stands, goes to walk away. Lale grabs at his shirtsleeve.
‘Pepan, why have you chosen me?’
‘I saw a half-starved young man risk his life to save you. I figure you must be someone worth saving.’
‘To save one is to save the world.’
While Lale likes meeting all kinds of people, he particularly likes meeting women. He thinks them all beautiful, regardless of their age, their appearance, how they are dressed.
He was attracted to all women, not just physically but emotionally. He loved talking to them; he loved making them feel good about themselves. To him, all women were beautiful and he believed there was no harm in telling them so.
‘Be attentive, Lale; remember the small things, and the big things will work themselves out.’
‘My beautiful Gita. You’ve bewitched me. I’ve fallen in love with you.’
…Choosing to live is an act of defiance, a form of heroism.’
The twinkling of stars overhead is no longer a comfort. They merely remind him of the chasm between what life can be and what it is now. Of warm summer nights as a boy when he would sneak outside after everyone had gone to bed, to let the night breeze caress his face and lull him to sleep; of the evenings he spent with young ladies, walking hand in hand in a park, by a lake, their way lit by thousands of stars above. He used to always feel comforted by the heavenly roof of the night sky.
‘Are you sure you’re not a cat?’
Lale hears the words and struggles to register where he is. He opens his eyes to find a grinning Baretski leaning over him.
‘You must be a cat, because you sure have more lives than anyone else here.’
Lale lived his life by the motto: ‘If you wake up in the morning, it is a good day.’
“I know he is not perfect, but I also know he will always put me first.”
How can a race that is spread out across multiple countries be considered a threat?
“Lale makes a vow to himself: I will live to leave this place. I will walk out a free man. If there is a hell, I will see these murderers burn in it.”
‘Then teach me. I want the girl I marry to like me, to be happy with me.’ Lale’s mother sat down, and he took a seat across from her. ‘You must first learn to listen to her. Even if you are tired, never be too tired to listen to what she has to say. Learn what she likes, and more importantly what she doesn’t like. When you can, give her little treats – flowers, chocolates – women like these things.”
His mother he can see perfectly. But how do you say goodbye to your mother? The person who gave you breath, who taught you how to live?
It’s only your own space if you make it yours.
…you will honor them by staying alive, surviving this place and telling the world what happened here.”
The girls who work there dream of a place far away where there is plenty of everything and life can be what they want it to be.
Save the one, save the world.
I am a Native of New Zealand now resident in Australia, working in a large public hospital in Melbourne. For several years I studied and wrote screenplays, one of which was optioned by an academy award winning Screenwriter in the U.S. In 2003, I was introduced to an elderly gentleman “who might just have a story worth telling”. The day I met Lale Sokolov changed my life, as our friendship grew and he embarked on a journey of self scrutiny, entrusting the inner most details of his life during the Holocaust. I originally wrote Lale’s story as a screenplay – which ranked high in international competitions – before reshaping it into my debut novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
Keep on reading and never stop telling stories.
One thought on “BOOK REVIEW | The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris”