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The Tattooist of Auschwitz - Review

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

ALREADY an international best seller, I doubt there’s much I can add to what is already known about Heather Morris’ extraordinary novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

Based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, a young man who was imprisoned in the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp simply for being a Jew, it was written after Morris spent time with him, then an old man, listening as he recalled the lost years of his life.

The result is a simply written account of Lale’s fight for survival in a place of unspeakable horrors and believe me the author doesn’t spare her reader the ghastly details; a place where inmates never knew if they’d live to see another day. And because the whole is interspersed with Lale’s own thoughts, there’s a poignancy that is at times heart-breaking.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also testament to man’s resilience in the face of insurmountable odds and a celebration of right eventually triumphing over wrong, of good overcoming evil in what must surely be one of the darkest periods in the history of mankind.

For all that, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is essentially a love story. By sheer good fortune, Lale became assistant to the Tatowierer and then tattooist in his own right and it was his job to mark his fellow prisoners with a number. It was while carrying out this work that he first saw and fell in love with Gita. Against all the odds, and there were a great many, they eventually became lovers, bound together by an unflinching determination to survive.

So here you have a book that exposes the very best and the very worst of mankind. I used the term “good fortune” to describe Lale’s work which may seem odd considering its nature but with it came certain advantages so Lale was able not only to help himself but others too. And although in our modern day world this wouldn’t amount to much, then it could make the difference between life and death.

Apart from the obvious lesson, there is another, equally pertinent today as it was then and it comes to light when we find Lale living alongside a community of Romani in what became officially known as the “Gypsy camp”.

Thrown together under exceptional circumstances they became friends, something that in normal times would never have happened for as Lale wryly observed: “You know, in another life I would have nothing to do with you. I would probably turn away from you, or cross the street if I saw you walking towards me.” And the reply he received: “Hey Tatowierer, in another life we would have nothing to do with you either. We would cross the street first.” Sound familiar?

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is both heart-warming and chilling and there were times when I was glad to retreat into my nice cosy 21st century world. But if by reading it, we keep the memory of Lale and Gita, and all those less fortunate, alive then we may go some small way in ensuring that what they were forced to endure never happens again.

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