[Review] The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper. September 4, 2018.
Genre: Historical fiction. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on a true story.
Pages: 273.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction with a subject of the Holocaust.
Rating: Very good.

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Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Heather Morris website.

Heather Morris’s Goodread’s Author Page.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is book 1 in a series of 3 books. The other two books are Cilka’s Journey, and Three Sisters. I have these books and will be reading and reviewing them in the future.

Heather Morris met and interviewed Lale Sokolov. She has the support of his son in the writing of this book. I don’t know why the book is not nonfiction. I don’t know what the fiction part of this story is or why she chose to make this a fiction instead of nonfiction.

Summary: The account begins in April 1942. The men are in a crowded, stifling, windowless cattle train traveling to a camp. All of them are Jews. The story centers on a young man named Lale. He is 25. Lale’s hometown is Krompachy, Slovakia. After two days of travel, they arrive at Auschwitz. Lale is not at Auschwitz long when he is given a job as a tattooist. It is his job to tattoo the series of numbers on the people who have been brought to Auschwitz. These people are prisoners. They are men and women, boys and girls. They are Jews and Romany. Lale does not want to look at the faces of the people he tattoos. At times he is under stress and nervous, this causes his tattooing to be rough and painful. One particular time he looks up and into the beautiful eyes of a woman. It is at this moment his heart flutters and he is struck with emotion.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is one man’s harrowing story of a hellish existence at Auschwitz and his love for a woman.

My Thoughts:

I’ve read a long list of Holocaust stories. Most of the stories do not completely take place at a concentration camp. At some point in the story, there will be a memory-reminiscing of that time or there will be a point in the story when the character is a prisoner. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is about 98% at Auschwitz. This means that because of the horrors, murders, sickness, suffering, and depravity of that place (including the anticipation of further horrible things) there will be no pauses in this story. In certain fiction stories, an author places moments of rest so the reader can catch a break (a breather before another stressful event occurs), especially if the story is mysterious, gruesome, and bleak.

Lale is an amazing character. These are the traits I found: charming, intelligent, observant, dressed well before his imprisonment, long-suffering, resilient, an encourager, the ability to adapt to new jobs quickly, and courageous. When Morris interviewed him, Lale was mistrustful and didn’t want just anyone to document his story. I am glad Morris added in the author’s note a brief sketch of their interviews and relationship.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz documents a daily survival in Auschwitz. A descriptive paragraph gives evidence of this: “The months that follow are particularly harsh. Prisoners die in all manner of ways. Many are taken by disease, malnutrition, and exposure to the cold. A few make it to an electrified fence, killing themselves. Others are shot by a tower guard before they can. The gas chambers and crematoria are also working overtime, and Lale and Leon’s tattooing stations teem with people as tens of thousands are transported to Auschwitz and Birkenau.” Page 155.

Romance is a theme in the story. But the romance does not shift away from the mood or tone of the story. This is a story of extreme suffering and stress and sorrow. The romantic element is stolen moments so they can be together. A paying off of people is done so they will have time together. He shares what he can with her including his food rations. Their courtship is extravagant considering their place of forced exile.

Other themes in the story: war, peace, survival, good and evil, courage, bravery, compassion, power of love, injustice, and resistance.

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