I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.
In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer – it was love at first sight. And he was determined not only to survive himself, but to ensure this woman, Gita, did, too. So begins one of the most life-affirming, courageous, unforgettable and human stories of the Holocaust: the love story of the tattooist of Auschwitz.
This is actually a rather difficult book for me to review. I must have sat here for a good 25 minutes already just trying to piece together my notes and how I want to present them. It was a journey that maintained hope in the face of death, a window into the lived experiences of those who were numbered, and a love built through survival.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz follows Lale, a 24-year-old young man forced into a labour camp by the German’s in 1942. After leaving behind those he loves to protect them from further danger, Lale is herded into a waggon train and transported to Poland. Starved for days, numbered, stripped of his possessions and dignity he begins his tenure as a prisoner of war.
Lale’s story takes us through some of the most harrowing times in modern history. Throughout the book, his status as the Tätowierer allows him slightly better chances of survival than his initial fellow bunkmates. He has marginally more freedom of movement when his position requires him to travel between two camps.
Upon meeting Gita it is love at first sight and the book begins the tale of two hearts clinging to one-another amidst the horrors experienced by Auschwitz’s prisoners. In his first encounter with her, no words are exchanged. Only a small slip of paper with the number he is expected to ink on her arm. She was a number before she had a name but to him, she was the ‘dark-eyed girl he would leave Auschwitz with, a free man‘
The Tattooist is written simply and, as such, it’s a quick read. It touches on the despicable inhumane things we as a species are capable of doing to one another without glorifying it. There are parts of the book that seem quite romanticised and others that are outright inaccurate. I would recommend that it is kept in mind that this is Heather Morris’ breakout novel from screenwriting. She herself has also said “The book does not claim to be an academic historical piece of non-fiction. I’ll leave that to the academics and historians“
On that note, I will say it is definitely worth taking the time to read and you should pick up a copy.
Where to buy:
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Kindle – £2.85
Hardcover – £8.97
Paperback – £3.00
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