Thursday 20 December 2018

Book Club: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Image Via Chapters Indigo

Book: The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Author: Heather Morris

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.

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 T├Ątowierer (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.

What I have to say:
This book was the November pick for my Book Club. I HATED this story, it was difficult to read. What is told in this book, is what really happened. Lale, Gita, and everyone else mentioned were real people. The horrors they went through really happened to them, and many, many, many other people. Lale and Gita were lucky- they survived, escaped and were able to create a life together. There are so many people who did not live, did not escape- and we hear some of their stories in this book. 

The story starts with us journeying with Lale from his hometown to the camp. We learn what life was like, the fear and horror, of settling and working at Birkenau. We see Lale get picked to be the Tattooist, tasked with marking incoming prisoners, and how this position is almost a luxury compared to other 'jobs' that others are doing. We are with Lale when he meets Gita and we get to experience their relationship. We watch as Lale uses his position to help others, the risks he takes. We see Lale's determination to survive, how he and Gita leave Birkenau, and are eventually reunited.

It is a beautifully written book, the characters are well defined, and the story is engaging. The details are amazing, and you feel like you are there experiencing everything the characters are experiencing. If this was a work of fiction, I would be talking about how much I loved this book. 

But it's not fiction.  

Personally, I found the book hard to read because of the horrors that Lale, Gita, and others went through. I was disgusted and disturbed with how they were treated. It was unsettling to be reminded of how evil and horrible things were. I was sick to my stomach throughout this book.

There are some good story lines...Lale and Gita's relationship and how it develops. Lale using his position as Tattooist to help other prisoners. The local father and son workers who bring items (food, medicine) to trade with Lale, so that he can pass them on to those in need. The pending liberation of camp, and people escaping. 

Final Verdict:
This should be mandatory reading for everyone, a reminder of what happened and how people were treated, and a warning to not let history repeat it's self.

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