The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Published by Clara on

The tattooist of Auschwitz book cover
The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Powerful, moving, and unexpectedly uplifting, this novel was a real struggle to put down. Heather Morris tells the story of Slovakian Jew Lale Sokolov and how he fell in love while working at one of Nazi Germany’s most notorious concentration camps.

Synopsis
We first meet Lale onboard a packed-out train destined for Auschwitz-Birkenau. Hungry, dirty, and exhausted, he was one of the countless young men who offered themselves up to the German government to spare the lives of their families.

While living at Birkenau, Lale contracted Typhoid fever and was cared for by the camp’s Tätowierer, Pepan. It was Pepan’s job to tattoo ID numbers onto the arms of incoming prisoners, and he ends up taking Lale under his wing. With this new role, Lale receives a private bedroom and more food rations, which he bravely shares with his block mates.

I was particularly touched by the following paragraph, in which Lale shares his initial concerns about inflicting pain on the new inmates:

“You want me to tattoo other men?”“Someone has to do it.”
“I don’t think I could do that. Scar someone, hurt someone – it does hurt, you know.”
Pepan pulls back his sleeve to reveal his own number. 
“It hurts like hell. If you don’t take the job, someone with less soul than you will and hurt these people more.”

Not long after Lale starts his new job, he meets Gita. Gita was a young Slovakian girl who was moved from Auschwitz to Birkenau along with dozens of other women at the time. Some of the girls’ numbers had to be redone because they were made with an inefficient stamp.

Here, in the first of many beautiful encounters between the couple, Morris describes the moment Gita and Lale lock eyes for the first time:

“Well done,” he whispers as he sets about tattooing the remaining three digits – 5 6 2. When he has finished, he holds onto her arm for a moment longer than necessary, looking again into her eyes. He forces a small smile. She returns a smaller one. Her eyes, however, dance before him. Looking into them his heart seems simultaneously to stop and burst out of his chest. Another piece of paper is thrust at him. “Hurry up, Lale!” Pepan whispers urgently. When he looks up again she is gone.

And so begins their tale of hope, courage, and survival…

Review
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Heather Morris transforms a truly harrowing event into something positive. Amid the horrors of the concentration camp, emerges a beautiful love story that grabs you by the heart, transports you into the past and highlights the importance of hope. 

I’m finding it hard to identify any faults in this book. If I had to choose something, however, it would be that the ending felt rushed. Not wanting to give anything away, the author has included further information, photos, maps, and documents at the back which did help to answer some of my questions.

If you’re looking for a book that will tug at the heartstrings, then this should certainly be your next read. Not only is it a fascinating insight into one of the most horrific events in human history, but it’s also a poignant reminder that behind every victim of the holocaust, there is a story to be told.

Haunting and beautifully written, The Tattooist of Auschwitz will stay with you long after you turn the final page. Rating 5/5.


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