“The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris is available to purchase from 11th January and is available in various formats. Published by Bonnier Zaffre and available from Amazon UK
I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.
In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust.
Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer – it was love at first sight. And he was determined not only to survive himself, but to ensure this woman, Gita, did, too.
So begins one of the most life-affirming, courageous, unforgettable and human stories of the Holocaust: the love story of the tattooist of Auschwitz.
Where to start with this book, it took me a while to get my thoughts in order before I could write a review. This is based on the true story of Lala & Gita Sokolov. They met when Lala tattooed the number on her arm on her arrival at Auschwitz. They along with tens of thousands of others became a number. Not a name. Not a person. They were A Number.
Heather spent three years with Lala and his two dogs as he told his story to her. He needed to do this so that “it would never happen again”. Also it was time for him to tell, he knew he didn’t have long before he joined his beloved Gita. Her death gave him the push he needed.
Lala was part of the German round-up of much-needed workers and he was taken to Auschwitz. By the use of his charm and a certain amount of luck he managed to get the position of “Tetovierer” the tattooist in the camps of Auschwitz and also nearby Birkenau. This allowed him a little more freedom and also extra food rations, Lala shared all he could with others in the camp. He managed to barter with civilian workers for food, with the help of Gita and her friends. All that could be shared out was, help given where possible. The generosity in a time of great suffering shown by others has a way of repaying itself, and indeed when Lala was in need of help it was there. He travelled between the two camps and this gave him insights as to what was happening, seeing different things appearing, seeing new people, meeting the new doctor a certain Josef Mengeler.
Through Heather, Lala gave accounts of who he met and his experiences. Heather has written his story with true emotion, sympathy and understanding. It is a heart wrenching read, and so it should be, but Lala’s character has come through the pages, showing his grim determination that he would survive, he would marry Gita and they would have a future together.
This is an important period in history, one that should never be forgotten or taken lightly. Heather has done a wonderful job in relating Lala’s story. It is an emotional journey, and even now I still feel the emotion as I write this review, a few days after reading the book. I received this book as an eARC via NetGalley, but I will be buying my own physical copy. I highly recommend this book to all readers.
Lala’s lifetime motto was “If you wake up in the morning, it is a good day.”
Number – 34902 – Gita born 1925 died 2003
Number – 32407 – Lala born 1916 died 2006
Many thanks to Bonnier Faffre and NetGalley for my copy of this book. My thoughts are my own and are unbiased.
About the Author:
Heather Morris is a native of New Zealand, now resident in Australia, working in a large public hospital in Melbourne. For several years she studied and wrote screenplays, one of which was optioned by an Academy Award-winning screenwriter in the US. In 2003, Heather was introduced to an elderly gentleman who ‘might just have a story worth telling’. The day she met Lale Sokolov changed both their lives, as their friendship grew and he embarked on a journey on self-scrutiny, entrusting the innermost details of his life during the Holocaust to her. Heather originally wrote Lale’s story as a screenplay – which ranked high in international competitions – before reshaping it into her debut novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
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