There are many compelling stories about the Holocaust, but The Tattooist of Auschwitz stands out because not only is it a true story about life in the camps, but it is a love story. Author Heather Morris interviewed Lale Sokolov for three years to later write this story.
Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, arrived by cattle car to Auschwitz in April of 1942. Upon entry into the camp, he and the other prisoners were forced to strip out of their clothes and abandon the few belongings they’d brought with them. Their hair was shaved off and numbers were tattooed on their forearms.
“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.”
Because he spoke several languages, Lale was later selected by SS officers to be the tatowierer – the tattooist of Auschwitz-Birkenau. While the job was horrifying to Lale, a dehumanizing process in which he became complicit, it allowed him a separate living quarters and a modicum of independence. As a result of this independence, he was able to barter with a worker from the outside for food and medicine, which he shared with the other prisoners, undoubtedly saving many lives.
When Lale tattooed Gita, he fell in love and vowed that he and she would survive to have a life together outside the camps. When Gita became ill from working outdoors, he was able to procure medicine and a new position for her indoors by befriending one of the guards.
The horrors of Auschwitz are all here: the sadistic and heartless guards, the gas chambers and crematoriums, the unending cattle cars delivering unbelievable numbers of people, and of course Josef Mengele, infamous for his inhumane medical experimentation on camp prisoners.
In spite of these horrors, the story of Lale and Gita Sokolov has something else – something that no one, not Mengele, not an SS officer, not even death, could take from them—love. Lale’s courage, determination, and unflagging hope are inspirational.
There are millions of stories about the Holocaust that will never be told. I’m so glad that Lale and Gita lived to share their story.
I recommend The Tattooist of Auschwitz for fans of The Women in the Castle and The Nightingale.