In Honor of International Holocaust Rememberence Day (January 27th)
Title: The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Author: Heather Morris
Publisher: Echo (February 1, 2018), Harper Paperbacks (September 4, 2018)
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction, Memoir
Trigger Warnings: Holocaust, Hate Crimes, Sexual Assault
Thank you to both Echo Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an electrical Review Copy of The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, set to publish February 1, 2018, in Australia. American readers will have access to the novel on September 4, 2018, through the publisher Harper Paperback. All opinions mentioned in this review are my own.
Based on the true story of Holocaust survivor Lale Sokolov’s life, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a hauntingly beautiful love story. In 1942, the German Schutzstaffel (SS) have begun infiltrating polyglot Lale Eisenberg’s’ native country of Slovakia. Posters have been hung up stating that every Jewish family must provide one member to join a German work camp or face the consequences. Lale travels to Prague to volunteer for his family where he is then forced onto a cattle train. When the train finally stops, Lale finds himself in Auschwitz-Birkenau, a German concentration camp. It is not long before Lale learns the politics of how to survive in the camp. To live, you need to be useful. Lucky for Lale, his ability to speak multiple Central European languages are put to use as the Tätowierer (German for Tattooist). He makes it his vow to survive the camp and to bring as many of whom he marked with him. Then one day in July, Lale see her, Prisoner 34902 – Gita. Lale now knows he must survive for one reason and one reason only – to marry Gita.
When I saw this novel as a “Read Now” on NetGalley I knew I wanted it to be my first NetGalley review. Especially since today (January 27th) marks the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I am not going to lie, this is an emotional read and I was haunted by dramatic irony. Knowing that this is a recount of Lale’s real life, and what the Russian’s discovered in in the liberation of Auschwitz, when someone disappeared from Lale’s story it is right to assume a real human lost their life. To be completely honest, the only reason I was able to read this novel with minimal tears was in the comfort of knowing that Lale Sokolov must have survived in order to tell his story. Then, when Gita was introduced, I did a bit of Googling until I learned she also survived. Although I could rest a bit easier, all I could do was hope that when Lale mentioned large groups being transported out of the camp, the passengers had physical destinations instead of being trapped death train.
I also understand why Lale choose Morris to be the one to recount his life. She did a phenomenal job of depicting Lale’s experience. Other then the individual accounts of Gita, that Morris must have embellished (causing this to be classified as Historical Fiction more than a memoir) as Lale could only retell what Gita had told him; Morris stuck with only telling us what Lale saw and experienced. When Mengele, the Angel of Death, was introduced into the novel my heart trembled for the worst. However, since Lale never knew what Mengele was doing being closed doors, all we learned was about how uncomfortable Lale felt around him.
Morris was able to capture a side of the Holocaust that is not taught in schools. To read a real account of the politics and caste systems implemented in Auschwitz-Birkenau opened my eyes. Being the Tätowierer made Lale untouchable. He was allowed a private room in a block and got extra rations – which he would smuggle out to those who needed it more. As long as, he had his tattooing sack, he could go almost anywhere without question. Although things could have been “easier” because Lale resided in the Birkenau camp, I shocked by the number of lives Lale had.
Finally, being as hard of a topic the Holocaust is, I was appreciative of the love plot between Lale and Gita. It made the story easier to digest almost like reading a dystopian YA novel – except everything that occurred actually happened. Lale is the worlds greatest boyfriend – selfless and empathetic. He risked his own life many a time to make sure Gita and those he cared for were safe. He treated her with respect and tried to provide what little he could for her. But most importantly – they gave each other a reason to survive. They gave each other constant motivation to continue living during their darkest times. This is why I was over-the-moon that Lale allowed Morris to share photos of him and Gita in the epilogue. You can see in the photos how much they truly loved each other.
Overall, I gave The Tattooist of Auschwitz a 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. I am thankfully the stars aligned and allowed Morris to meet Sokolov in Australia. Also, I am grateful that Sokolov chose to share his story, one that desperately needed to be told. The Tattooist of Auschwitz should be read by anyone that is old enough to comprehend the atrocity that was the Holocaust. Compared to other Holocaust stories I have read and listened too, this one was nowhere near as graphic. I do believe this is suitable for anyone 12 and over and would be acceptable in a classroom setting.
For those American readers who can not wait until September 4th when Harper Paperback begins publishing The Tattooist of Auschwitz, you can purchase a used copy of the UK version from the publisher Zaffree here.
The second bunkmate rolls onto his elbow. ‘ You put big ideas into his head. He wanted to save “the one.”‘
‘To save one is to save the world.’ Lale completes the phrase.
The men sink into silence for a while. Lale looks at the ceiling, blinks away tears. Aron is not the first person to die here and will not be the last.
“Thank you,” he says.
–The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris