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The Tattooist of Auschwitz: A Novel

The Tattooist of Auschwitz: A Novel

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz: A Novel

ratings:
4.5/5 (1,125 ratings)
Length:
290 pages
4 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Sep 4, 2018
ISBN:
9780062797162
Format:
Book

Description

The #1 International Bestseller & New York Times Bestseller

This beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov—an unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is an extraordinary document, a story about the extremes of human behavior existing side by side: calculated brutality alongside impulsive and selfless acts of love. I find it hard to imagine anyone who would not be drawn in, confronted and moved. I would recommend it unreservedly to anyone, whether they’d read a hundred Holocaust stories or none.”—Graeme Simsion, internationally-bestselling author of The Rosie Project

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 Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for over 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.

Publisher:
Released:
Sep 4, 2018
ISBN:
9780062797162
Format:
Book

About the author

Heather Morris is a native of New Zealand, now resident in Australia. For several years, while working in a large public hospital in Melbourne, she studied and wrote screenplays, one of which was optioned by an Academy Award-winning screenwriter in the US. In 2003, Heather was introduced to an elderly gentleman who ‘might just have a story worth telling’. The day she met Lale Sokolov changed both their lives. Their friendship grew and Lale embarked on a journey of self-scrutiny, entrusting the innermost details of his life during the Holocaust to her. Heather originally wrote Lale’s story as a screenplay – which ranked high in international competitions – before reshaping it into her debut novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.


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The Tattooist of Auschwitz - Heather Morris

Prologue

LALE TRIES NOT TO LOOK UP. HE REACHES OUT TO TAKE THE piece of paper being handed to him. He must transfer the five digits onto the girl who held it. There is already a number there, but it has faded. He pushes the needle into her left arm, making a three, trying to be gentle. Blood oozes. But the needle hasn’t gone deep enough, and he has to trace the number again. She doesn’t flinch at the pain Lale knows he’s inflicting. They’ve been warned—say nothing, do nothing. He wipes away the blood and rubs green ink into the wound.

Hurry up! Pepan whispers.

Lale is taking too long. Tattooing the arms of men is one thing; defiling the bodies of young girls is horrifying. Glancing up, Lale sees a man in a white coat slowly walking up the row of girls. Every now and then he stops to inspect the face and body of a terrified young woman. Eventually he reaches Lale. While Lale holds the arm of the girl in front of him as gently as he can, the man takes her face in his hand and turns it roughly this way and that. Lale looks up into the frightened eyes. Her lips move in readiness to speak. Lale squeezes her arm tightly to stop her. She looks at him and he mouths, "Shh." The man in the white coat releases her face and walks away.

Well done, he whispers as he sets about tattooing the remaining four digits—4 5 6 2. When he has finished, he holds on to 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. As he looks into them, his heart seems simultaneously to stop and to begin beating for the first time, pounding, almost threatening to burst out of his chest. He looks down at the ground and it sways beneath him. Another piece of paper is thrust at him.

Hurry up, Lale! Pepan whispers urgently.

When he looks up again, she is gone.

1

APRIL 1942

LALE RATTLES ACROSS THE COUNTRYSIDE, KEEPING HIS HEAD up and himself to himself. The twenty-five-year-old sees no point in getting to know the man beside him, who occasionally nods off against his shoulder; Lale doesn’t push him away. He is just one among countless young men stuffed into wagons designed to transport livestock. Having been given no idea where they were headed, Lale dressed in his usual attire: a pressed suit, clean white shirt, and tie. Always dress to impress.

He tries to assess the dimensions of his confinement. The wagon is less than ten feet wide. But he can’t see the end to gauge its length. He attempts to count the number of men on this journey with him. But with so many heads bobbing up and down, he eventually gives up. He doesn’t know how many wagons there are. His back and legs ache. His face itches. The stubble reminds him that he hasn’t bathed or shaved since he boarded two days ago. He is feeling less and less himself.

When the men try to engage him in conversation, he responds with words of encouragement, trying to turn their fear into hope. We stand in shit but let us not drown in it. Abusive remarks are muttered at him for his appearance and manner. Accusations of hailing from the upper class. Now look where it’s gotten you. He tries to shrug the words off and meet the glares with smiles. Who am I trying to kid? I’m as scared as everyone else.

A young man locks eyes with Lale and pushes through the scrum of bodies toward him. Some men shove him on his way through. It’s only your own space if you make it yours.

How can you be so calm? the young man says. They had rifles. The bastards pointed rifles at us and forced us into this . . . this cattle train.

Lale smiles at him. Not what I was expecting, either.

Where do you think we’re going?

It doesn’t matter. Just remember, we are here to keep our families safe at home.

But what if—?

Don’t ‘what-if.’ I don’t know, you don’t know, none of us knows. Let’s just do as we’re told.

Should we try to take them when we stop, since we outnumber them? The young man’s pale face is pinched with confused aggression. His balled-up hands box pathetically in front of him.

We have fists, they have rifles—who do you think would win that fight?

The young man returns to silence. His shoulder is wedged into Lale’s chest, and Lale can smell oil and sweat in his hair. His hands drop and hang limply by his side. I’m Aron, he says.

Lale.

Others around them tune in to their conversation, raising their heads toward the two men before lapsing back into silent reveries, sinking deep into their own thoughts. What they all share is fear. And youth. And their religion. Lale tries to keep his mind off theorizing about what might lie ahead. He has been told he is being taken to work for the Germans, and that is what he is planning to do. He thinks of his family back home. Safe. He has made the sacrifice, has no regrets. He would make it again and again to keep his beloved family at home, together.

Every hour or so, it seems, people ask him similar questions. Wearying, Lale begins to answer, Wait and see. He is perplexed as to why the questions are directed to him. He has no special knowledge. Yes, he wears a suit and tie, but that’s the only visible difference between him and the next man. We’re all in the same filthy boat.

In the crowded wagon they can’t sit, let alone lie down. Two buckets substitute for toilets. As they fill, a fight breaks out as men try to get away from the stench. The buckets are knocked over, spilling their contents. Lale clings to his suitcase, hoping that with the money and clothes he has, he might be able to buy himself out from wherever they are headed, or at the very least buy himself into a safe job. Maybe there’ll be work where I can use my languages.

He feels lucky to have found his way to the side of the wagon. Small gaps in the slats provide him with glimpses of the passing countryside. Snatched breaths of fresh air keep the rising tide of nausea at bay. It might be springtime, but the days are filled with rain and heavy clouds. Occasionally they pass fields ablaze with spring flowers and Lale smiles to himself. Flowers. He learned from a young age, from his mother, that women love them. When would be the next time he could give a girl flowers? He takes them in, their brilliant colors flashing before his eyes, whole fields of poppies dancing in the breeze, a scarlet mass. He vows that the next flowers he gives to someone he will pick himself. It has never occurred to him that they grow wild in such large numbers. His mother had a few in her garden, but she never picked them and brought them inside. He starts a list in his head of things to do when I get home . . .

Another fight breaks out. Scuffling. Yells. Lale can’t see what is going on, but he feels the squirming and pushing of bodies. Then there is silence. And from the gloom the words, You killed him.

Lucky bastard, someone mutters.

Poor bastard.

My life is too good to end in this stinkhole.

* * *

THERE ARE MANY STOPS ON THE JOURNEY, SOME LASTING MINUTES, some hours, always outside a town or village. Occasionally Lale catches a glimpse of the station names as they speed through: Zwardoń, Dziedzice, and, a little later, Dankowice, confirming they are in Poland. The unknown question: where will they stop? Lale spends most of the time on the journey lost in thoughts about his life in Bratislava: his job, his apartment, his friends—his female friends in particular.

The train stops again. It is pitch-black; clouds block out the moon and stars completely. Does the dark portend their future? Things are as they are. What I can see, feel, hear, and smell right now. He sees only men like himself, young and on a journey into the unknown. He hears the grumbling of empty stomachs and the rasping of dry windpipes. He smells piss and shit and the odor of bodies too long unwashed. The men take advantage of not being thrown around to rest without the need to push and shove for a piece of turf. More than one head now rests on Lale.

Loud noises come from a few wagons back, gradually creeping closer. The men there have had enough and are going to attempt an escape. The sounds of men throwing themselves against the wooden sides of the wagon, and the banging of what must be one of the shit buckets, rouses everyone. Before long every wagon erupts, attacked from within.

Help us or get out of the way, a large man screams at Lale as he throws himself against the side.

Don’t waste your energy, Lale replies. If these walls could be breached, don’t you think a cow would have done it?

Several men stop their efforts, turning angrily toward him.

They process his comment. The train lurches forward. Maybe those in charge have decided movement will stop the unrest. The wagons settle down. Lale closes his eyes.

* * *

LALE HAD RETURNED TO HIS PARENTS’ HOME, IN KROMPACHY, Slovakia, following the news that Jews in small towns were being rounded up and transported to work for the Germans. He knew Jews were no longer allowed to work and that their businesses had been confiscated. For nearly four weeks he helped around the house, fixing things with his father and brother, building new beds for his young nephews who had outgrown their cribs. His sister was the only family member earning an income, as a seamstress. She had to travel to and from work in secret, before dawn and after dark. Her boss was prepared to take the risk for her best employee.

One evening she returned home with a poster her boss had been asked to put in the shop window. It demanded that each Jewish family hand over a child aged eighteen or older to work for the German government. The whispers, the rumors about what had been happening in other towns, had finally come to Krompachy. It seemed that the Slovakian government was acquiescing further to Hitler, giving him whatever he wanted. The poster warned in bold type that if any family had such a child and did not surrender them, the whole family would be taken to a concentration camp. Max, Lale’s older brother, immediately said he would go, but Lale would not hear of it. Max had a wife and two young children. He was needed at home.

Lale reported to the local government department in Krompachy, offering himself for transportation. The officials he dealt with had been his friends—they’d gone to school together and knew each other’s families. Lale was told to make his way to Prague, report to the appropriate authorities, and await further instructions.

* * *

AFTER TWO DAYS THE CATTLE TRAIN STOPS AGAIN. THIS TIME there is a great commotion outside. Dogs are barking, orders are yelled in German, bolts are released, wagon doors clang open.

Get down from the train, leave your possessions! shout the soldiers. Rush, rush, hurry up! Leave your things on the ground! Being on the far side of the wagon, Lale is one of the last to leave. Approaching the door, he sees the body of the man killed in the skirmish. Briefly closing his eyes, he acknowledges the man’s death with a quick prayer. Then he leaves the wagon, but brings with him the stench—covering his clothes, his skin, every fiber of his being. Landing on bent knees, he puts his hands on the gravel and stays crouching for several moments. Gasping. Exhausted. Painfully thirsty. Slowly rising, he looks around at the hundreds of startled men who are trying to comprehend the scene in front of them. Dogs snap and bite at those who are slow to move. Many stumble, the muscles in their legs refusing to work after days without use. Suitcases, bundles of books, meager possessions are snatched from those who are unwilling to surrender them or simply don’t understand the orders. They are then hit by a rifle or fist. Lale studies the men in uniform. Black and threatening. The twin lightning bolts on the collars of their jackets tell Lale who he is dealing with. The SS. Under different circumstances he might appreciate the tailoring, the fineness of the cloth, the sharpness of the cut.

He places his suitcase on the ground. How will they know this one is mine? With a shiver, he realizes that it’s unlikely he will see the case or its contents again. He touches his hand to his heart, to the money hidden in his jacket pocket. He looks to the heavens, breathes in the fresh, cool air, and reminds himself that at least he is outdoors.

A gunshot rings out and Lale jumps. Before him stands an SS officer, weapon pointed skyward. Move! Lale glances back at the emptied train. Clothing blows away and books flap open. Several trucks arrive, and small boys clamber out. They snatch up the abandoned belongings and throw them into the trucks. A heaviness settles between Lale’s shoulder blades. Sorry, Mama, they have your books.

The men trudge toward the looming, dirty pink-brick buildings with picture windows. Trees line the entrances, flush with new spring growth. As Lale walks through open iron gates he looks up at the German words wrought from the metal:

ARBEIT MACHT FREI

He doesn’t know where he is or what work he will be expected to do, but the idea that it will set him free has the feeling of a sick joke.

SS, rifles, dogs, his belongings taken—this he’d been unable to imagine.

Where are we?

Lale turns to see Aron at his side.

The end of the line, I’d say.

Aron’s face falls.

Just do as you’re told, you’ll be fine. Lale knows he doesn’t sound terribly convincing. He gives Aron a quick smile, which is returned. Silently, Lale tells himself to take his own advice: Do as you’re told. And always observe.

Once inside the compound, the men are corralled into straight lines. At the head of Lale’s row is an inmate with a beaten face, sitting at a small table. He wears a jacket and trousers with blue and white vertical stripes, with a green triangle on his chest. Behind him stands an SS officer, rifle at the ready.

Clouds roll in. Distant thunder claps. The men wait.

A senior officer, accompanied by an escort of soldiers, arrives at the front of the group. He has a square jaw, thin lips, and eyes hooded by bushy black brows. His uniform is plain in comparison to those guarding him. No lightning bolts. His demeanor shows that he’s clearly the man in charge.

Welcome to Auschwitz.

Lale hears the words, spoken by a mouth that barely moves, in disbelief. Having been forced from his home and transported like an animal, now surrounded by heavily armed SS, he is now being welcomed—welcomed!

I am Commandant Rudolf Hoess. I am in charge here at Auschwitz. The gates you just walked through say: ‘Work makes you free.’ This is your first lesson, your only lesson. Work hard. Do as you are told, and you will go free. Disobey, and there will be consequences. Now you will be processed here, and then you will be taken to your new home: Auschwitz Two-Birkenau.

The commandant scans their faces. He begins to say something else but is interrupted by a large roll of thunder. He looks skyward, mutters a few words under his breath, flicks a dismissive hand at the men, and turns to walk away. The performance is over. His security presence hurries off after him. A clumsy display, but still intimidating.

The processing begins. Lale watches as the first prisoners are shoved forward to the tables. He’s too far away to hear the short exchanges, can only watch as the seated men in pajamas write down details and hand each prisoner a small receipt. Finally it is Lale’s turn. He has to provide his name, address, occupation, and parents’ names. The weathered man at the table writes Lale’s answers in a neat, looping script and passes him a piece of paper with a number on it. Throughout, the man never raises his head to meet Lale’s eyes.

Lale looks at the number: 32407.

He shuffles along with the flow of men toward another set of tables, with another group of striped prisoners bearing the green triangle and more SS standing by. His desire for water threatens to overwhelm him. Thirsty and exhausted, he is surprised when the piece of paper is yanked from his hand. An SS officer pulls off Lale’s jacket, rips his shirtsleeve, and pushes his left forearm flat on the table. He stares in disbelief as the numbers 32407 are stabbed into his skin, one after the other. The piece of wood with a needle embedded in it moves quickly and painfully. Then the man takes a rag dipped in green ink and rubs it roughly over Lale’s wound.

The tattooing has taken only seconds, but Lale’s shock makes time stand still. He grasps his arm, staring at the number. How can someone do this to another human being? He wonders if for the rest of his life, be it short or long, he will be defined by this moment, this irregular number: 32407.

A prod from a rifle butt breaks Lale’s trance. He collects his jacket from the ground and stumbles forward, following the men in front into a large brick building with bench seating along the walls. It reminds him of the gymnasium at the school in Prague where he slept for five days before beginning his journey here.

Strip.

Faster, faster.

The SS bark out orders that the majority of the men cannot understand. Lale translates for those nearby, who pass the word along.

Leave your clothes on the bench. They will be here after you’ve had your shower.

Soon the men are removing trousers and shirts, jackets and shoes, folding their filthy clothes and placing them neatly on the benches.

Lale is cheered at the prospect of water but knows he will probably not see his clothes again, nor the money inside them.

He takes off his clothes and places them on the bench, but outrage threatens to overwhelm him. From his trouser pocket he removes a slim packet of matches, a reminder of past pleasures, and steals a glance at the nearest officer. The man is looking away. Lale strikes a match. This might be the final act of his own free will. He holds the match to the lining of his jacket, covers it with his trousers, and hurries to join the line of men at the showers. Behind him, within seconds, he hears screams of Fire! Lale looks back, sees naked men pushing and shoving to get away as an SS officer attempts to beat out the flames.

He hasn’t yet reached the showers but finds himself shivering. What have I done? He’s just spent several days telling everyone around him to keep their heads down, do as they’re told, don’t antagonize anyone, and now he’s gone and lit a fire inside a building. He has little doubt what would happen if someone pointed him out as the arsonist. Stupid. Stupid.

In the shower block, he settles himself, breathes deeply. Hundreds of shivering men stand shoulder to shoulder as cold water rains down on them. They tilt their heads back and drink it in desperately, despite its rankness. Many try to lessen their embarrassment by covering their genitals with their hands. Lale washes the sweat, grime, and stink from his body and hair. Water hisses through the pipes and hammers the floor. When it ceases, the doors to the changing

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What people think about The Tattooist of Auschwitz

4.4
1125 ratings / 160 Reviews
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Critic reviews

  • A moving story of love and hope amid atrocities that's based on the real-life experiences of a Holocaust survivor forced to tattoo fellow prisoners at Auschwitz. "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" has been a perpetual bestseller since its release in 2018.

    Scribd Editors

Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    I love historical fiction involving WW2. The Tattooist of Auschwitz was based on a true story making it more riveting. I couldn't wait to read more each night as the story unfolded. I'd classify this one as popular fiction rather than literary fiction - perfectly enjoyable plot, but not very deep with style or language.
  • (4/5)
    Heartbreaking story of survival in concentration camp. The writing is bare and the narrative engaging. The reality harrowing
  • (4/5)
    I grudgingly read this book, as it was a book club selection, because I only had intentions in my life to ever read one more book about the Holocaust: The Diary of Anne Frank. I've read several over the years and while I don't think I've read a bad one, I much prefer my senseless murders to be the result of crazed fictional serial killers. It's too hard for me to read books or watch movies about non-fictional accounts of war: it is always far to real and can't enjoy them regardless of how good they are.This book lived up to its tagline as "based on the powerful true story of love and survival". Lale, the Tatowierer of Auschwitz, is a young man with remarkable kindness, charisma, and just plan luck who is able to work his charms with both men and women in order to survive the horrors of Nazi internment. He lucks/charms his way into a job assisting the current tattooer, a position that comes with a more leeway and privileges than most prisoners receive. Lale, who has always had an eye for the ladies, notices Gita while tattooing her and it's love at first sight. The story follows their stolen moments over the years imprisoned and how their love and his assured promise for their future keeps them going from one day to the next. Lale, with his personality and his position, is able to make connections throughout the camp that allow him to provide small amounts of assistance and protection for Gita, other friends he has made, and himself.This is not to say that there are not accounts of horrendous acts of violence, senseless deaths, and just unbelievable inhuman treatment, but Lale's outlook while put in an impossible situation is something to aspire to achieve.
  • (4/5)
    Wow - what a powerful story of survival. Based on interviews the author had with Lale Sokolov, it tells of a Jewish prisoner who survived Auschwitz and saw firsthand many of the atrocities that occurred as the tattooist of Auschwitz. As with many Holocaust stories, the brutality is horrific. But this book also recounts a tale of bravery, love, and an indomitable will to survive.
  • (5/5)
    This book is a beautiful story of two people who met and fell in love under the worst possible circumstances and how that love brought them through. Lale was one of the kindest souls and would do anything that he could for anyone. Reading the authors notes you can see how even after all these years, Lale still loved Gita. In the epilogue just as much happened to the two of them as did thru the entire book. This is an excellent book!!
  • (4/5)
    The story behind The Tattooist of Auschwitz is interesting, as are most stories about life in concentration camps during WWII. Beyond that, there is nothing exceptional about this novel. The characters are not particularly developed and the prose is not noteworthy.
  • (4/5)
    4.5 stars
    ****
    I loved this book. I really enjoyed the way it was written. Although it told the story of prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau, at no point did I feel like I absolutely had to put it down to collect myself. I often wondered how these characters survived for so many years, and even so many pages, but as I came closer to the end it became very clear. This was a very smart couple. It was obvious early on that Lale knew what to do to keep himself safe. I often worried that he was trying to share too much, and it was clear that he wasn't completely immune from trouble. However, his kind actions were never forgotten and I loved that.

    I am really glad that this was based on a true story. It comforts me to know that intelligence and good deeds can get you somewhere in life. Although their situation was painfully different than hopefully anything that will happen in our lifetimes, it is still a lesson worth learning. I held on much tighter to the story of survival than the story of love. Maybe I found it easier to connect with somebody fighting for their life by whatever means necessary than to connect with somebody fighting for the love of their life. Either way, I found the story very easy to connect with, despite the difference in circumstance.

    I also want to thank Heather Morris for telling this story, and telling this story so well. I think it's so important that we keep this memory of concentration camps and hatred alive. I honestly had never taken the time to appreciate how many different groups were hauled into Auschwitz. I haven't really thought about the medical experiments since high school when I first learned how bad they really were. Even for those of us who know the story, it is all to easy to forget the story. We simply cannot let that happen.
  • (4/5)
    Much better books about this subject both fiction and non-fiction. However, the book does demonstrate how beginning kind makes all the difference. Wonder what happened to many of the other people.
  • (4/5)
    I read a lot of books in the genre and this one did not disappoint . . . . unfortunately, i didn't realize it was a true story (audio book) until the end of the book . . . . so as I was listening I found it to be a bit unrealistic and fragmented. Knowing it was a true story makes it believable (clearly), but I still think the writing could have been much better to really bring these important characters to life.
  • (5/5)
    It's a comfort to know that despite of the bleak circumstances, they were still able to find love and hang on to hope. I couldn't put this book down. I couldn't bring myself to stop reading. It was such a powerful and unforgettable story.
  • (3/5)
    "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" left me with mixed feelings and, honestly, my opinion of the novel still seems to be changing from hour to hour. It's not that author Heather Morris is a bad writer; she's not. It's more that she never really made me feel the true horror of what life was like in a WWII German concentration camp. Morris touched on all of the atrocities that occurred to those so unfortunate as to find themselves imprisoned by the Germans: the brutality, the depravities, murders, medical "experiments," rapes, starvation, the crematoriums, the forced labor, etc., it's all there. But the book's main character Lale Sokolov lived such a blessed existence in the camp despite all that was going on around him, that it's hard to shake the feeling that this is more a romance novel than a historical novel. (And, yes, the real Lale Sokolov chose Morris to tell his story and worked with her to produce it.)Bottom line, this is the story of a young Jewish man who fell instantly in love with one of the women he was tasked to tattoo an identification number on at Auschwitz. Lale became Gita's protector and advisor, managed to sneak her and her friends extra rations that he purchased from a civilian camp worker, and even got her the medicine that saved her life when it appeared that she had almost no chance of recovery. Theirs is a beautiful love story. That both survived and managed to find each other after the chaos of the death camp's liberation is a miracle. That all of this happened in the real world is simply astonishing, but I'm just not sure that the novel quite does justice to their story.
  • (3/5)
    A story of love overcoming the worst possible scenario. We all know the horrors of Auschwitz so no need to go over them again. The only problem I had with this book is the it seemed unreal. I can't believe one person can have as much "luck" as he did when no one else seemed to. From befriending his guard, to getting food from some workers in town, to getting his girlfriend an easier "job" in the office. There were just too many Lucky Instances to be. totally believable.
  • (5/5)
    I cried reading this heart breaking but fascinating book.
  • (3/5)
    I was really disappointed with this book - yes, the story was moving, but the writer´s overly simplistic and almost juvenile style of writing made this an almost boring read. I see that this was intended as a screenplay, & perhaps it would have best written as such.
  • (4/5)
    The Tattooist of Auschwitz- Heather Morris, author; Richard Armitage, narrator.This novel tells the story of Ludwig Eisenberg and Gisela Fuhrmannova. Essentially, it is a love story that defied the odds as it took place in the most unusual of places. Ludwig was known as Lale. In 1942, he was a prisoner in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. His job was to tattoo incoming prisoners. He met Gita (Gisela), just a teenager of 17, on the day she was brought to him to have her tattoo redone because it had faded. For Lale, it seemed to be love at first sight, and he took it upon himself to protect her and insure her survival. Every Holocaust story brings with it a unique history of events, and this one is no different. It reminds the reader of the brutality and sadistic horror that the Germans, under Hitler’s Third Reich, systematically inflicted upon innocents who were guilty only of not being pure Aryans, although some were also marked because they held opposing political viewpoints. It is sad that fewer sane minds prevailed. Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and the mentally ill were among those who were persecuted and systematically tortured, starved, worked to death or murdered outright so that Germany and Germans could enlarge their territory and prosper. The means justified their end goals. At first, I was drawn into the story because I thought it was the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov (Lale changed his name from Eisenberg to Sokolov, his sister’s married name). As I read it and realized that the author had taken a great deal of poetic license in her presentation of events, I still enjoyed it, but not quite as a piece of history. I found it to be a compelling presentation of a romance that defied reality, and in some cases, some of the descriptions of events and experiences seemed to even defy credibility. I began to wonder how much of the story was based on fact and how much on the fiction that the author had to create when she put pen to paper. Since she did not hear actual conversations and had to rely on Sokolov’s memory and description of events, she surely had to embellish a great deal. There was so much that had to be filled in by her in order for her to write a cohesive and realistic story. Sometimes she was more successful than others as the narrative often went off into the world of a fairytale as characters that behaved with vicious brutality were often being presented with an occasional softer side. The author seemed to struggle to paint a positive side to the evil many exhibited, as if each villain had a redeeming trait to fall back on, in spite of their taking great pleasure in cruel, violent, evil behavior. To me, that softer side seemed to be far more of an anomaly and not the rule of thumb.From the description of events, it appeared almost miraculous that Gita and Lela survived what they were forced to undergo. As with many survivors, a good deal of their ability to survive was because of luck and the occasional kindness of others. Yet, even the kindness of others seemed to have had a price, since nobody seemed to turn down any of the bribes offered. It seemed as if few did anything simply out of the goodness of their hearts, but rather they did it also for the reward they would reap. The reader may well question if such a romantic relationship could have developed and thrived in a place filled with guards who relished and enjoyed their power, brutality and capacity for carnage. Still, the idea that there were some strong enough or lucky enough to survive through whatever means they could find comes through loud and clear, even when doing what was necessary meant sacrificing others to save themselves. Bargains were struck and compromises made in order to insure their survival. There were unusual friendships and choices that had to be made. Sometimes the line between collaborator and survivor was blurred.No matter how many books you read, non-fiction or historic fiction, you can never full realize the complete extent of the Holocaust horror.The narrator did a phenomenal job using perfect and appropriate accents, excellent expression and tone to present mood and the moment.
  • (4/5)
    It's a powerful story. It's a sad story, but there is hope within the sadness. Amidst the backdrop of World War II, Lale Sokolov leaves his home, believing that by doing so he is safeguarding the rest of his family. He ends up in Auschwitz-Birkenau. A Frenchman sets Lale up to be his assistant tattooist (putting the numbers on the arms of prisoners). Later, the Frenchman disappears without explanation, leaving Lale as the head tattooist. Lale attempts to use his position to help others. He finds an assistant in Leon (who disappears, reappears, and then disappears again). He gets girls who work in the warehouses (called The Canada) to steal money, gems, and jewelry which are passed on to him and which he in turn passes on to buy foods, medicines, and other items to help himself and others in the camps. Lale also finds love in the form of Gita--Gita is in the first group of women Lale sees brought to the concentration camp. Lale tattoos her arm. The lengths Lale goes to and the risks he takes to help others survive are both admirable and sad. It is heartening to see that there are people in the surrounding area who are willing to help those in the concentration camps even at risk to themselves. I'm sure they would have been imprisoned if they'd been discovered helping those in the camp. Once he finally escapes the Germans/Nazis, Lale thinks he'll surrender to the Russians. At first they ignore him, but then they put him to work as a "pimp"--a nicer form of slavery/imprisonment than what he had at the concentration camp but still, he is not free. He is better fed and better clothed and has access to a bathroom, but little freedom. Somehow, he still manages to squirrel away some money and gems and eventually, when he's gained the Russians' trust, he takes off for his homeland and to find Gita. Eventually, he and Gita move to Australia and make a life for themselves. Lale tells his story only after Gita passes away.
  • (3/5)
    I was somewhat disappointed in this book. I enjoyed it, but nowhere near as much as I expected to. It's a story of great contrasts; of kindness, compassion, and even love amongst the greatest of human cruelty. I expected to be moved, perhaps even to tears, but I wasn't, not even close. The story is narrated in a very simplistic, factual style that tells the story of what happened but it fails to generate any emotional investment in the reader.
  • (2/5)
    Badly written.
  • (4/5)
    A very moving story of a tragic time.An uplifting outcome.I understand why it is on bestseller lists!
  • (5/5)
    I would like to thank Net Galley for the advanced copy of "The Tattooist of Auschwitz". It's a book about the Holocaust with a little different twist telling the story of how a man survives Auschwitz and how he helps other prisoners as well. The book was very good and kept my interest till the end . It gives a good account of the horror of the prison camps. I look forward to another book by this author.
  • (4/5)
    An important addition to the bookshelf of Holocaust memoirs, this story of complicity for the sake of survival is a well-told novel based on the recollections of Lale Sokolov, who did use crude materials to assign numbers for the Nazis of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Chosen for his task as a result of his language skills, he manages to help his bunkmates, co-workers, and others to survive, primarily by smuggling confiscated jewels and money to Polish day workers in exchange for food and medicine. There's a particularly poignant chapter on his Romany roommates, and how Lale learns to put aside his own prejudices to become part of their family. After he tattoos her, Lale falls in love with Gita, and manages to have her assigned to a Nazi office at the camp, sparing her manual labor and her life. As a result of his privilege, both of them survive to be liberated. The reader recognizes how many others must have died in their stead, and of course one cannot help but wonder whether they themselves would have made the same choice.
  • (2/5)
    This was a beautiful story but I thought it was written completely without emotion. I wonder how the author could spend three years learning this story from the MC and then retell it without seeming to portray an emotional connection to any of the characters.
  • (4/5)
    I really enjoyed this book. Lake Slovakian was a prisoner at one of the worst concentration camps in Europe, Auschwitz. I can’t even imagine what it must have like to be the one who tattoos the numbers on his fellow Jews. He does help people by getting them medicine and food they need. I read Geta book years ago and enjoyed it.
  • (5/5)
    A moving and affecting book which causes the reader to reflect on man's inhumanity to man, our will to survive, and the cost of love. I bought this book many weeks ago but have put off reading it as the world of the Holocaust is not something to enter lightly. I needed to be feeling strong. However, despite the horrendous circumstances, this telling manages to be both honest and also sparing - there is no revelling in atrocity; in this case, less certainly is more. In this way, we as readers can experience something of the mindset of the prisoners - acknowledgement that horrors are happening, but somehow continuing to be human despite being treated worse than the most despised animal.
    Powerful. Important. Read it.
  • (5/5)
    This was such a great book for me. I loved the characters especially and sped right through it.I loved that, for the most part, the gas chambers, crematoriums and the other human atrocities were scenery. Not to say that it wasn't prevalent, but it wasn't the gist of the story.The story was about a man who did everything he could to save himself and still be able to live with himself. And, also what he could do for the people around him. He was responsible for saving many lives by sneaking in food, hiding people, etc., whatever it took.Such a great, great book! I loved it!!! A really strong feel good read, despite the atrocities, that had me speeding right through this one.Thanks to Bonnier Zaffre and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
  • (5/5)
    When times become hard for Jews in 1942 Slovakia, Ludwig Eisenberg, named Lale, decides to save his family and to present himself to the enemy. After some days waiting he is transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, today the synonym with Nazi cruelty. He soon attracts attention due to his knowledge of several languages and his ability to cope with people. He becomes the tattooist of Auschwitz, the person who replaces the peoples’ names with a number on their wrist. Lale’s extraordinary capabilities make him wander between the lines, on the one hand, he serves the Nazis, on the other, he supports the Jews and gypsies in the camp. When He first sees Gita, he completely falls for her. But a concentration camp is not the best scenery for a love story, especially since you never know if you will die tomorrow.Heather Morris has written a compelling story in one of the most awful places the Nazi regime has created. Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest concentration camp where more than one million persons found death during the second world war and where Josef Mengele carried out is gruesome experiments, is today a museum and remembrance site which aims at preventing such a thing from happening ever again.The story is based on the narration of the real Lale Eisenberg who later called himself Sokolov when he, after surviving the Holocaust, started a new life first in Slovakia and then Australia. It is incredible to read about his life in the camp, especially considering the fact that he as a kind of collaborator was relatively well off. Those who are burnt in the gas chambers, those who fell prey to Menegle’s experiments and all the ones who died from hunger or illness are only on the fringes of the story. So after all, we actually get one of the happier sides of being held prisoner under unimaginable conditions even though this one isn’t free of tragedy either. But it is not only the story itself which is moving, it is also the author’s style which makes the book stand out. Most of the narration is in chronological order, only towards the end Lale has some kind of flashbacks of the time before he came to the camp. He never would have guessed that they were in real danger, that Hitler would invade Slovakia and certainly not all that he sees in Auschwitz. Morris makes the reader actually feel what Lale feels, quite often his emotions are palpable which makes the story go deep inside you. Especially in the moments when he is separated from Gita or close to death. Since it is based on a true story, this is certainly a life which needed to be told and which should be read about widely.
  • (5/5)
    Given the current trend of governments moving away from democracy around the world, the timing of two new novels about the Nazi regime during World War II feels particularly prescient. The two novels are nothing alike, told from two very different perspectives of Nazi Germany, but they both are important for modern readers. Not only do they serve as a warning cry to not only never forget what happened. They also serve as a reminder to remain diligent and aware in order to prevent something like that happening again.V. S. Alexander‘s novel The Taster shows Nazi Germany from an insider’s perspective. Magda’s position as one of Hitler’s food tasters highlights his paranoia and his general fear of germs and murder plots. She provides readers with so much more though than just an intimate view of Hitler’s neuroses. Through Magda we see how well the Nazis hid the truth from the German citizens. We see the insidiousness of the Nazi regime and the unspoken fear with which they reigned. We see the reasons why the German people supported Hitler and considered him Germany’s savior and the blind faith they had that he would succeed. Lastly, we see that everyone had differing opinions as to the Nazis. Some supported him without question, others supported him with doubts, some feared his rule but did nothing, and others actively fought against the Nazi party using guerrilla tactics where possible.Magda’s unique position affords readers an enticing look at all of this. Her story is as engaging as it is educational. The fact that it is based on the accounts of Hitler’s actual tasters makes it all the more compelling. Still, there is the feel that much of Magda’s story has been spiced up a bit. Her presence at certain scenes, and especially her friendship with Eva Braun, are most certainly a plot contrivance meant to give the story a bit more zest. This does not lessen some of the key points made – the growing desperation on the part of the Hitler party leaders, Hitler’s dichotomous nature, the increasing disconnect between the news reports about the war’s successful progression with nightly bombings and battles occurring ever closer to German soil. It does however mute their importance.The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also based on a firsthand account, but unlike The Taster, there is no doubt that Lale’s story has no embellishments. It may be a novel, but it is nonfiction in the guise of fiction. This is an unusual narrative choice, but it makes Lale’s story easier to stomach. Anyone who entered the gates of Auschwitz in 1942 and survived the entire war and post-war chaos has lived through hell and has the stories to match. By filtering these stories through the medium of fiction, it softens the harsh edges of the truth and makes it more palatable.Whereas desperation tinges Magda’s story, especially as the war draws to a close, hope and love are the defining themes of Lale’s story. This is a major distinction between the two novels and is as much a result of the different situations in which each of the two main characters existed as it is to their personalities. Magda was merely an observer, letting history happen around her, but Lale was an active participant in everything that happened to him. From the opening paragraph, we know that survival was Lale’s sole goal for whatever the Germans had in store for him. We see this in his manipulation of situations in his favor, no matter how it made him look to his fellow prisoners.Moreover, he knew that in order to survive maintaining hope was essential, and we see him not only doing so for himself but finding reasons to help others remain hopeful. In addition, love literally changed his life. In a testament to the power to love, meeting his future wife shortly upon his arrival gave him the drive and reason to live, and the dream of marrying Gita as a free person allowed him to remain hopeful through the worst of what mankind can instill on others. In many ways, Lale’s story is as much of a love story as it is a personal observation of the horrors of war.If The Taster is akin to a carousel ride, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is the most death-defying roller coaster. The former is entertaining, mild, and the type of story that allows you to remain an emotionless observer. The latter, though, is an emotional punch in the gut that demands you not only pay attention but become emotionally involved. Even with the filter smoothing the rough edges of horror, Lale’s story contains harsh realities that remain all the more disgusting because of their truth. For all of that, the layer of hope and his profound sense of love for Gita and for his fellow prisoners reminds you of the beauty of humanity and provides a fantastic juxtaposition for everything he experienced.
  • (4/5)
    Reading books about The Holocaust are normally out of my comfort zone but this book intrigued me. It's the true story of Lale Sokolov and how he survived his time in Auschwitz. It's always hard to review on this subject. A time in our history that is never forgotten and should never happen again. I found the story very compelling and heart moving.There are so many words that could describe this book but for me there are two, hope and courage. Lale becomes the tattooist to survive and helps others as much as he can. I flew through the book which seemed a quick read and enjoyed it more than what I thought I would. It shows that even when there is the most cruelty there is always hope.
  • (4/5)
    This is a beautifully written, wonderfully researched novel about a Jewish man during WWII. The historical fiction novel is based on a real person who told his story to the author. He and his wife had kept their lives private after they moved to Australia after the war but after his wife died after over 50 years of marriage, he felt the need to share their story with the world.Lale Sokolov was a young man when he decided to go to a work camp to save the rest of his family. He finds out later that this was a lie and most of the rest of his family didn't survive. He was given the role at a tattooist - the person who tattooed the numbers on the arms of the prisoners. Because he had a bit more freedom that most, he was able to get extra food to share with other people. One day he saw Gita and knew that he had to get to know her. The next several years were terrible for both of them and the atrocities that went on were horrendous. He managed to find her again after the war and they immigrated to Australia.This is a difficult story to read due to the horrible things that were going on in the camps but Lale had decided early on that he would survive and that thought kept him alive every day. So even though it's a very sad story - it's also very uplifting and shows the very best of humanity in the very worst of circumstances.Thanks to netgalley for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.
  • (5/5)
    Lale Sokolov (born Ludwig Eisenberg), born in Krompachy, Slovia in 1916, was transported by the Nazis to Auschwitz on April 23, 1942. He was 24, healthy, and could speak a number of languages, which proved very fortunate for him. In fact, as inappropriate as it seems to speak of an inmate of Nazi concentration camps having a lot of “luck,” the fact is that Lale, in spite of his circumstances, had an inordinate amount of it. Even one of the S.S. marveled he was like a cat with nine lives.Lale became a Tätowierer, or tattooist, for the camp, one of the men assigned to brand the prisoners when they arrived, just as was done to Lale when he came to Auschwitz. The Nazis used the tattoos to identify bodies after they killed them, in order to comply with their meticulous record-keeping showing who arrived and who was killed. Lale hated the job, but it was a way to keep alive, and he vowed when he came there that he would survive and see those who were responsible pay a price. He held on to that thought using it like a mantra to make himself get out of bed each morning, and the next and the next.He soon got another reason to go on living, after meeting a girl whose tattoo had faded and needed to be redone: Gita Furman (born Gisela Fuhrmannova) was also from Slovakia. Lale was entranced by her dark eyes, and began a secret courtship with her. He was helped by a number of factors. Because he was one of only two Tätowierers, he had more freedom than other prisoners, and even got extra rations. He was able to walk around and befriend two local workers, from whom he received meat, chocolate, and even medicine, for which he paid in jewels confiscated by the Nazis from incoming prisoners. He got those from the girls who worked in “Canada,” where the prisoners possessions were collected and processed. The girls transferred jewels and money to Lale, and he in turn got them what they needed. He was in this way able to help get Gita penicillin when she was sick and then obtain a job in the office where life would be easier for her. He also bribed the guard in charge of Gita’s barrack to get time to see her. He also helped anyone he could who needed it, and he was repaid in kind when he himself needed help. In this way both he and Gita survived until 1945, when the Russians were closing in and the Germans abandoned the camp. But first, the Nazis tried to kill remaining prisoners. Lale and Gita independently escaped and made their separate ways back to Slovakia.Lale went to the main train station in Bratislava every day, hoping to find Gita among the many survivors coming daily. And after two weeks, there she was. They were married in October, 1945. When he got into trouble with the new government in Czechoslovakia, again Lale got lucky, and he and Gita escaped, making their way to Australia in 1949.The author met Lale in 2003, after Gita died and when Lale wanted to tell his story to a writer who was not Jewish, so would more likely be without personal baggage or preconceptions. She visited Lale two or three times a week for three years until his own death in 2006 and gradually learned his story: “We had become friends - no, more than friends….” as she learned what happened sixty years before.Although the author decided to call this book a novel because she has created dialogue based on what Lale told her and because of the uncertainty of the veracity of memory, she states:“Lale’s memories were, on the whole, remarkably clear and precise. They matched my research into people, dates, and places.”She concludes:“The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a story of two ordinary people living in an extraordinary time, deprived not only of their freedom but also their dignity, their names, and their identities. It is Lale’s account of what they needed to do to survive. Lale lived his life by the motto: ‘If you wake up in the morning, it is a good day.’ On the morning of his funeral I woke knowing it was not a good day for me, but that it would have been for him. He was now with Gita.”I would only object that Lale and Gita were not, in fact, “ordinary.” As Lale said to Gita about her friend Cilka, who was forced to perform sexual acts with one of the SS, “Tell her I think she is a hero. . . You’re a hero, too, my darling. That the two of you have chosen to survive is a type of resistance to these Nazi bastards. Choosing to live is an act of defiance, a form of heroism.”Lale also, to me, was heroic, and extraordinary.The book includes photos and some additional information about the fate of others mentioned in the story.Evaluation: This powerful book of courage and hope when there is no justification to feel either is an incredible story, and highly recommended.