At least once a year I come across a book that impacts my life; this year, the first book to do this was The Tattooist of Auschwitz. I’ve read many Holocaust-themed stories, but The Tattooist of Auschwitz was the first book that made the events of 1941-1945 feel less like a made up horror story and more like real life. We can hear as many retellings of this era as we want, but unless we experience the same terrors first-hand, the stories feel more like a faraway dream than reality; however, as I listened to the author’s note and the afterward of this book, my view on the Holocaust changed forever.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a historical fiction novel based on the real life of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who was imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942. Soon after his arrival at the concentration camps, Lale was employed by the SS to tattoo the arms of Jews with numbers they will wear for the rest of their lives. Yearning to tell his story but scared of being called a Nazi collaborator, Lale stayed silent until 2003, when he contacted Heather Morris, a screenplay writer. In the last three years of his life, Lale recounted his time in Auschwitz to Heather, determined to have it all written down before he died.
Confined in a place of darkness, death, and tragedy for more than two years, Lale should be known as more than a survivor, but a fighter. He fought for the survival of not just himself but the people locked inside Hitler’s deadliest concentration camp by using his position as the Tätowierer (tattooist) to his advantage. Trading with local builders, Lale smuggled jewels and money out of the camps in exchange for food and medicine, risking his life with every transaction.
With pain and sorrow all around, Auschwitz seemed to be the last place Lale would find love; but in July 1942, a girl named Gita sat at his station to be tattooed, and Lale knew, without a doubt, that she was the woman he was going to marry. Their love faded out the turmoil that was going on around them and survival was now unquestionable; they would survive and be free, no matter how many trails came their way!
This novel was a moving, heavy, compelling, inspiring, and incredible piece of writing that left me speechless and awestruck that people survived these kinds of tragedies. Having been in a room with tattooed Holocaust survivors, this story seemed to bring all the pieces together and gave me bird’s eye view into the reality more than a million Jews endured in Auschwitz. We should never forget the events that happened during the Second World War, and publishing these books is an excellent way of keeping those memories alive.
If you enjoy historical fiction or books in general, then you’re going to love The Tattooist of Auschwitz. The story is heart-warming, though at times traumatic, with love being the theme throughout this novel. At the end of the day, love is what keeps us going, and for Lale and Gita, it was the thing that saved them.