The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018) – Heather Morris

Title:The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Author:Heather Morris
Publishers:Bonnier
Publication date:2018
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is the true story of Lale Solokov, a Jewish man from Slovakia who was taken to Auschwitz-Burkenau in 1942 during WW II and Adolf Hitler’s reign. He would spend three years in the camp, where the most important elements of camp life were getting enough food to eat (which was never enough) and being able to survive each day. Throughout his time there Lale managed to stay positive and upbeat, and with his natural ability to adapt and a charming personality he defied the odds time and time again. It is also in Auschwitz where Lale will meet the love of his life. This is his story.

Not long after arriving Lale became the assistant to the camp’s tattooist or ‘tatowierer’ who must mark all the new prisoners with their numbers. These infamous numbers would become their new identity inside the walls of the concentration camps that cared little for the people inside them. Soon after Papen the main tattooist ‘disappears’ Lale found himself in a position that protected him from the wrath of the camp’s officers. With his bag of tools Lale walked among the other prisoners no longer an equal, able to receive extra food and a sense of security and privilege. He was even housed separately from the other prisoners in his own room in a barracks he later shared with a tribe of gypsies who became his friends and allies.

One day Lale met the eye of a young woman whose wrist he tattooed. It took months before he learned her first name, and years before he learned her last. Lale fell in love with Gita, another Slovakian Jew whose family she learned whilst in the camp were killed not long after she was separated from them. She had befriended a close group of women, including Cilka, who for some reason not explained was never made to shave her head, however walking among the prisoners with her beautiful long tresses in no way protected her from the hardships and abuse by the officers.

Lale began helping other prisoners in the camp with extra food smuggled and trades between workers on the outside and women working in one of the warehouses in the camp that sorted through confiscated goods. His generosity of spirit and overall faith that he and Gita would eventually leave Auschwitz and return home was the purveying spirit within the wretchedness and the hopelessness that was evident in every corner of the camp and those that were imprisoned within it. Lale and Gita’s relationship was the light within the darkness that most of the prisoners seemed happy to support.

“Death alone persists in this place”

Despite Lale’s food smuggling he was often looked at suspiciously by those who were not his friends, and some even considered him a traitor by colluding with the Germans. During his time as the tattooist Lale became an ally of sorts with an officer named Baretski whom though cruel and prone to violence was also often the only person standing between a mediocre life and death. Much like characters in a nightmare other horrifying people entered his life. One such person was the doctor known only as Mengele whose creepy demeanor and connection with obscene experiments done on both the male and female prisoners added to the sickening feeling Lale felt every time he had to permanently scar the thousands upon thousands of Jewish people who were brought to him daily.

The author Heather Morris spent time with Lale documenting both his and Gita’s story. Originally meant as a screenplay her work was eventually published as an account that makes no attempt to fictionalize any of the details and reads as such. In many ways this account is an ode to the many people Lale and Gita met, and who in certain circumstances were responsible for saving the lover’s lives. At one point the prisoner’s are standing in the open yard and found themselves being coated in the ash from the crematoriums, and despite the love story the reader cannot possibly pretend that Morris’ book is anything other than a horrifying story filled with the dark truth of a time in history.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a story of love and friendship, and of horror and unbelievable cruelty, but it is also a story of endurance and faith and the human being’s incredible ability to adapt and to try at all costs to survive.

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