Lale Sokolav, a Jew from Slovenia, is sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in April, 1942 as part of the Nazi’s “final solution”. The Tattooist of Auschwitz follows Lale on his harrowing journey where, despite the fear and danger he is able to survive and even find a reason to survive.
When Lale first enters Auschwitz he is subjected to the same horror of forced labor, very little food and filthy living conditions as all the prisoners, but when his captors discover that he is fluent in several languages he is given a “promotion” as “Tatowierer” – the tattooist. He is now responsible for permanently marking numbers on the arms of his fellow Jews as they enter the camp. While is is horrified and sickened by his role in their misery, Lale is determined to survive.
Because he is the Tattooist, Lale has some additional privileges – he has his own room and he is able to move around the camp without too much suspicion so long as he carries his bag of tattoo supplies with him. He uses this privilege to collect money and jewels that other prisoners have secretly kept that were found in the clothes of the people who have been murdered. He then then exchanges these for food and medicine from a local workman who comes to the camp each day, building more barracks.
One day, while Lale is tattooing the arms of young women, he falls in love. Her name is Gita and Lale is determined that they will both survive and create a life together beyond the nightmare they are now living. Despite Lale’s status as the “Tatowierer” he still faces many horrific and dangerous situations (sometimes through his own foolishness) and he is haunted by his role in German hands – is he a collaborator? Or simply doing whatever it takes to survive?
Based on a true story, this is a powerful book on many levels, one that is both horrible and thoughtful and optimistic.
If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a good choice for our July theme of surviving the Holocaust.