28 March 2020

Review: THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ, Heather Morris

  • Originally published in Australia by 2018
  • ISBN 978-0-06-279715-5
  • 262 pages
Synopsis (Good Reads)

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 T├Ątowierer (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.

My Take

A departure from my usual fare of Crime Fiction (although crimes have definitely been committed)
A book I bought in LA at the airport when my electronic devices were running low in battery life.
It was billed in the book store as #1 and I had had it recommended in the last year by several people.

It was a very compelling read, an opportunity to read at first hand an inside story about the events of the Holocaust.
Lale Sokolov spent 3 years of his life as a prisoner in Auschwitz/Birkenau tattooing numbers on the arms of new inmates, taking the opportunity to undertake some black market trading exchanging jewels for food and helping keep fellow prisoners alive. Some saw Lale as a collaborator and occasionally reported his activities. Several times he nearly lost his life.

My guess is that there are some too who would see Lale as a lower level war criminal, but his experiences were harrowing.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
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. 

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