By: Heather Morris
“Something off the tracks catches his eye, a flash of color. A flower, a single flower, waving in the breeze. Bloodred petals around a jet black middle. He looks for others but there are none.”
The same author writes the Tattooist of Auschwitz as Cilka’s Journey, Heather Morris. She wrote The Tattooist of Auschwitz first. Since I had already read Cilka’s Journey, I was vaguely familiar with the main characters of The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Cilka’s Journey didn’t fully give away the story but, I knew how it would end for the two main characters.
This book is inspired by the story of Lale Sokolov, a survivor of Auschwitz. However, this is a work of fiction. Heather Morris brings together Lale’s accounts and her creative storytelling skills for this book.
“How can a race spread out among multiple countries be considered a threat?”
My summary of the book:
Lale Eisenberg (Sokolov) is the main character, the tattooer of Auschwitz. We follow his journey from Slovakia to Auschwitz. In Slovakia, the Germans told all Jewish families to send one child over eighteen to work for the German government. Lale volunteers for his family, says his goodbyes and heads to Prague for deportation. It is still unclear what the Germans are doing with these Jewish workers, and there is still hope that if they work hard, they can return to their families. Therefore, Lale believes that he is saving his family by volunteering for the Germans; he believes he has spared his family from the atrocities that await him. He shows up for duty dressed in fine clothes to be presented respectably to the Germans. What he encounters is nothing he could have prepared for. Lale is forced onto a train with many other men, unaware of what awaits them on this journey. Many men hope and pray this train ride will be the worst part of their work assignment; when they arrive at Auschwitz, they cannot believe what they are witnessing or what they are being forced into.
After some lucky turn of events, Lale finds himself being taken out of hard labour and asked to train to become the camp tattooer. At first, he is horrified by the idea; he cannot imagine tattooing other people the way he was. However, he quickly understands that by becoming the tattooer of Auschwitz, he can get out of hard labour, his new value could also save his life, and he knows with his new status at the camp, he can help his fellow prisoners. Therefore, he accepts the position. Almost immediately, he receives extra food, which he hides for his old block mates, and is given a new single bedroom. He feels very guilty receiving these perks and promises himself to help other prisoners with his new status in the camp.
One day while Lale is keeping his head down and tattooing the new prisoners, he catches a glimpse of a woman. This woman catches his attention immediately. He is struck by her beauty, a beauty that is somehow radiating in this horrific place. After she leaves, he makes it his goal to find out who she is and which block she lives in. Lale eventually finds this woman and learns her name is Gita. This is the beginning of a beautiful romance that somehow manages to grow under horrifying conditions. This love also gives them another reason to survive the camps and gain their freedom.
“…you will honour them by staying alive, surviving this place and telling the world what happened here.”
My review of the book:
Although this story is not an exact re-telling of Lale’s life, the reader is very aware that everything happening at these camps did occur to someone. Thankfully some prisoners did survive this camp and were able to tell the story of their experiences. I don’t know what parts Morris creates and what parts are true, but the fact that Lale could survive the camp seems unimaginable. How anyone manages to go on each day under those types of circumstances shows the type of courage and strength humans can have.
“But how do you say goodbye to your mother? The person who gave you breath, who taught you how to live?
This is an incredible story of survival, love and courage. No matter what awful event occurs in the camp, Lale still chooses to go on, to fight to live, to fight for freedom. Morris does a great job at connecting her readers to the characters, making them feel emotionally attached to what happens.
Many Holocaust books, fiction and non-fiction, have been written over the years. Each one adding a different perspective to these horrible events. This was definitely a unique perspective, following the life of the man that is responsible for the lifelong tattoos that Holocaust survivors are now known for. I also really liked that Morris continued the story after the evacuation of Auschwitz. The reader could learn how these prisoners were eventually freed and understand the lack of help they were given in finding their way home. Most Holocaust books don’t go into the details of how these Jewish people, now freed, found their way home. For some, home was a long way away, and it wouldn’t have been an easy journey to complete. Overall I think this is a good book that shows a new perspective on how prisoners lived in Auschwitz.
“To save one is to save the world.”
What historical fiction books have you read recently?