Author: Heather Morris
Published: January 2018 by Zaffre
Category: Historical Fiction based on a true story, Love Story, WWII, Auschwitz, Holocaust, Book Review
The incredible story of the Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist and the woman he loved.
Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, a charmer, a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew. On the first transport from Slovakia to Auschwitz in 1942, Lale immediately stands out to his fellow prisoners. In the camp, he is looked up to, looked out for, and put to work in the privileged position of Tätowierer– the tattooist – to mark his fellow prisoners, forever. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz is incredibly powerful and moving, all the more so for being the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov.
In April 1942 twenty four year old Lale, a Slovakian Jew, is crammed into a wagon used to transport livestock, with countless others. Thinking he is saving his family, Lale has volunteered for what he believes is a work detail and he’s unaware his destination is Auschwitz, then on to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Lale’s first bewildering experience on arrival at the concentration camp is having a number tattooed on his forearm, stripping him of his individuality. When Lale wakes in the night needing to relive himself and witnesses three prisoners shot for no reason by laughing guards he 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.
Lale has a strong survival instinct and his deferential attitude, the fact he’s fluent in several languages and obviously well-educated, means he is spared the worst of jobs. Eventually he is given the task of tattooing the new arrivals, even the women which he hates. He first sees Gita when he’s obliged to tattoo a number on her arm. Being the Tätowierer brought its own benefits, placing him under the protection of the Political Wing instead of being at the total mercy of the SS. He can travel around the camp and has special privileges which allow him, through luck, resourcefulness and sheer bravery, to secretly help the other inmates by supplying them with extra food and medicines.
Even though everyone knows, if only basically, what happened in the concentration camps during WWII, knowing this account is from one man’s personal experience makes it all the more shocking and stark. The horrors, atrocities, cruelty and the fight for survival. More even than that, it’s a story of courage, hope and against all odds, a love story.
They have both withstood, for more than two and a half years, the worst of humanity.