The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
This novel is based on the true story behind one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust - the blue numbers tattooed on prisoners’ arms. When Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, was given the job of tattooist in Auschwitz, he used his infinitesimal freedom of movement to help keep fellow victims alive. If caught, he would’ve been killed; many owed him their survival.Terrible though this story is, it is also one of hope, of courage - and of love. Waiting in line to be tattooed was a terrified and shaking young girl. For Lale it was love at first sight, and he was determined he and Gita would survive. Their story, fact-checked against all available documentary evidence, endorsed by the son they never thought they would have, and untold for over seventy years, will make you weep, but it will also uplift you.For here, in the very worst of circumstances, is the very best of humanity.
Two things struck me most about this book, and they will be forever interlinked. Firstly, this is a true story. Every horror, every triumph, every tiny little slice of hope, actually happened. Not a word of it is fictionalised, and this is both heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measures as Morris tells us of Lale and Gita’s lives in Auschwitz. As time moves us further and further away from the Holocaust, we must continue to remember them all.
Secondly, the patience, love, and resilience of Morris to sit with Lale for years, listening to his stories piecemeal, and finally weaving them together to be presented chronologically, shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet. She has recognised the need for this tale to be told, and has painstakingly written it in a way which allows us to connect to the victims. This is a labour of love.
Prisoners in Auschwitz were given jobs to do; the broad idea was to work them until they died. Building, digging, cleaning, filing; everyone had a role. Lale’s was a tricky one; he was tasked with tattooing the arms of all new arrivals to the camp with the number which would define them for the rest of their lives. As soon as Gita presents her arm for a number, Lale knows she’s the love of his life. What follows is the heartrending story of how they both endured.
When reading of Lale and Gita’s strength, I wondered to myself how I would cope. Could I persist through what they did? For all of those years? Could I keep hope alight and see my life begin as I left those gates? I don’t think I could. I believe I would give up in that situation, and this makes both of their survivals all the more inspiring.
I will never stop believing in the importance of these types of novels. I will never stop believing in the importance of remembering. Morris has given us another story, another life, and another way to never forget what happened in that atrocious camp.