Title: The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Author: Heather Morris
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Genre: Historical Fiction
First Publication: 2018
Major Characters: Lale Sokolov, Gita Sokolov
Setting Place: Krompachy (Slovakia), Auschwitz
Book Summary: The Tattooist Of Auschwitz
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 more than 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.
Book Review: The Tattooist Of Auschwitz
How can I possibly review & rate the real-life account of a person who has stared death in the eye many times; and managed to survive one of the darkest, most horrific chapters in human history? He not only survived, but finds love, hope, purpose amidst the horror and come out of it a humble man; able to move on with his life and find happiness. Which makes Lale Sokolov’s story, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, not only moving and heart-breaking but also humbling and inspiring hope. I was so totally blown away by this book, and I am really struggling to find words for the emotions it evoked in me.
If you wake up in the morning, it is a good day.
What happened at Auschwitz or any concentration camp during WWII was disgusting, barbaric, dehumanizing and just plain heart-breaking. I am no stranger to WWII stories, heartbreak and horror. But the ever prevailing notion I so admired was that these people managed to forgive, find love, find happiness and live a full, rich life afterward. Lale took it that one step further, finding his one true love at Auschwitz, this bleakest of places; and then managing to survive the horror AND be reunited with Gita. There is as much beauty in his story as there is horror.
I think what makes The Tattooist Of Auschwitz stand out from others is the simple but powerful account of everyday life in the concentration camp; without the overly graphic details aimed to shock and confront, which often only serve to turn some people away.
Lale’s story tells his daily reality, the horror that has become a routine. His meetings with terrifying historical figures that have made it into the history books as examples of the worst humankind has to offer; such as the sadistic “doctor” Josef Mengele. But as much as there was darkness, there was always a beacon of light in the small pleasures he found in this bleakest of environments; highlighting the strength of the human spirit. I remember vividly one simple statement one of my clients once said to me about her horrific wartime experience: “Yes, it was horrible. But we were young, and we were in love, and I remember that most of all.” That, too, was the spirit of Lale’s story; the triumph of love over depravity, of being able to survive when so many wished him dead.
Heather Morris, who spent years with Lale as he shared memories of his time in Auschwitz-Birkenau with her, does an excellent job in bringing this historical story to the reader, capturing the essence of a young man whose life was turned upside down by one of the worst chapters in human history. One day Lale was a young man enjoying the finest things in life – good food, the comfort of a nice home and the love of his family; and the next day he was on a cattle train bound for Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Life can turn on a dime. This could be me, or you. In her writing, Morris manages to convey the spirit of a young man trying to survive; but also hold on to his humanity the best he can. It was heart-breaking and humbling to see the strength of the human spirit in the face of death.
What an amazing man. What an amazing story. Everyone should read this unforgettable book. Thank you, Heather Morris, for bringing Lale’s story to life for everyone to read; and making sure we will not forget.