Originally published: January 2018
Author: Heather Morris
Set in: Auschwitz, Poland
Genre: Historical Memoir
Page count: 275
Reading dates: 16-19 May 2018
Star Rating: 5/5
This is the true life story of Lale Sokolov who arrived in the Auschwitz concentration camp in April 1942, after being forced to volunteer to work for the German government. Within a very short time he contracted typhus and almost died. He is nursed back to health by his fellow prisoners and when he is still too weak for manual work, he is taken on by the prison tattooist Pepan, known as the Tetovierer. Before long he goes missing and Lale takes over the role of tattooist, marking the skin of men, women and children who arrive at Auschwitz with a number, which is how they are identified from that moment on.
One day he sees and tattoos a young woman, Gita and falls in love with her. Being the Tetovierer gives him some privileges like his own room to sleep in and extra rations and he immediately shares these with his fellow prisoners and also with Gita and her friends. He also manages to get her a job in the administration offices. To help get more food and medicine when required into the camp, he makes a deal with the girls who sort through the belongings of the prisoners – they get jewels and money to him which he passes to external workers who come to the camp for supplies.
As well as a love story, this is an extraordinary story of brutality and survival – there are some truly shocking parts to the book, made all the more horrific because they are events that actually took place.
Lale was in his 80s before he told his story – up until that point he’d kept his role in the war a secret. He felt guilt but also fear that he and Gita would be seen as collaborators of the Nazis.
A 5 star read from me – tough and shocking but I feel it’s important these stories are still told so we never forget what took place. Heather Morris does a great job of telling Lale and Gita’s story. She met with Lale 2-3 times a week and it took 3 years to untangle his story.
Thank you to Bonnier Zaffre for sending me an Advanced Readers Copy of this remarkable book.
Goodreads recently published an interview with the author. You can find it here