In My Good Books: ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ by Heather Morris

 “You will honour them by staying alive, surviving this place and telling the world what happened here.”

Based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris, follows the harrowing memories of an Auschwitz prisoner. It captures the true experience of Lale as he battles for survival and yet finds love in the midst of chaos. Each reader becomes truly invested in the day to day battles of Lale and Gita, as love and friendship prove as essential to survival as physical needs. Heather Morris recounts the intricate relationships and business affairs of Lale Sokolov as he bargains, begs and befriends his way to survival.

The novel begins in 1942 as Lale and thousands of prisoners are transported like cattle to their tragic fate. The intelligence of Lale is immediately evident as he instantly forms connections within the camp and acts as a source of comfort and information for his fellow prisoners. The quick thinking Lale soon finds himself in a superior position in the camp as he is assigned the role of the Tattooist, or “Tätowierer”. Amidst the brutality of the camp, Lale meets Gita and the pair quickly become devoted to one and other. Despite the constant depiction of hardship and exploitation throughout the novel, the small gestures of love and courtship move readers as the relationship of Lale and Gita proves unbreakable.

Victor and Yuri are two locals who work at the construction site of Auschwitz. Lale quickly establishes a deal with the two men in which Lale offers small treasures from the camp in exchange for food, medicine and other basic necessities. The compassionate Lale uses this dangerous transaction to help both his love, Gita, and his fellow prisoners, proving selfless in the face of death. The account of Lale and Gita explores the nonchalant murder of the prisoners, as well as sexual exploitation and unimaginable violence, thus providing a breath-taking insight into this worldwide tragedy.

One particularly emotive scene will haunt every reader. Lale is summoned to clarify the tattoo of a slaughtered prisoner, and the sight of the gas chamber shocks not only Lale, but equally the heartless SS officer. Lale witnesses “Bodies, hundreds of naked bodies, fill the room. They are piled up on each other, their limbs distorted. Dead eyes stare. Men, young and old; children at the bottom. Blood, vomit, urine and faeces.” This vivid description pervades the novel as a whole, as Lale witnesses countless murders and comes face to face with death himself.

In the midst of this global crisis it seems impossible that Lale and Gita remain hopeful for a future together, but their love acts as their motivating force of survival. Heather Morris comments that Lale lived by the motto “If you wake up in the morning, it is a good day.” This motto depicts Lale’s unbreakable hope and determination as he battles under the oppression of the Nazi regime.

British culture is permeated with poetry, fiction and photography which depict the horrors of war. Personally, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is unique as it offers an in-depth and extensive personal experience of an ordinary individual in the face of the warfare. Readers are immersed in each traumatising experience of Lale as this true story depicts the persecution and dehumanisation of the prisoners of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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-Hattie Hansford

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