Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

About the Book:

Based on the incredible true story of Lale Sokolov 

Heart-breaking  - a tale of love and survival amidst the horrors of Auschwitz.

Human - the real story behind one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust - the blue numbers tattooed on prisoners' arms.

Inspirational - the very best of humanity in the very worst of circumstances.

Unforgettable - a story untold for over seventy years is finally shared.

Life-affirming - one man's determination to survive and live a full life with the woman he loved.

Fully verified - Lale Sokolov's background and story has been fact-checked against all available documentary evidence.

My Comments:

One of the iconic symbols of the Holocaust is the numbers tattooed onto the forearms of those chosen to survive the selection process that sent most of those arriving at death camps to the gas chambers.  Lale Lokolov was the person who applied many of those tattoos.

I've read that those who survived the concentration camps were generally young adults who were in good physical shape when they arrived, were able to make friends who helped them survive and who were either there for a relatively short time, or who managed in one way or another to get extra food.  Lale was an early arrival at Auschwitz but other than that, he fit the profile of the survivor.  For whatever reason, those running the camp deemed him worthy of extra rations and private sleeping quarters.  Further, he was able to befriend a local villager who worked in the camp and women who sorted the luggage of new arrivals, and to broker trades of valuables found in the luggage for food for himself and others.  

One day while on duty as a tattooist, Lale had to apply a tattoo to Gita, to whom he was immediately attracted.  He managed to meet her, carry on a romance with her, and after they were free, re-connect with her and marry her.  

Lale was the quintessential "people person" who knew how to read people, how to get along with them, and yes, how (within the confines of the situation) to get them to do what he wanted.  A particular guard was assigned to be his "keeper" and while he and Lale were by no means friends, a part of me thinks that had they met in a different time at a different place, they might have been. 

The story follows Lale from his arrival at Auschwitz through his escape from the Nazis near the end of the war, through working for the Russians (and escaping from them) to finally reuniting with Gita and marrying her.  The book ends with a list of the fates of some of the major characters, which I found interesting.

The book is classified as historical fiction and I suppose this is one of those times that having the liberty to make up conversations, characters or even events can help tell more truth than sticking strictly to that which could be remembered by an old man or verified through documentary evidence.  Still, I'd be curious to know what in the book actually happened, and what was a figment of the author's imagination.

While I enjoyed the book, the writing style struck me as less than professional--the book rambled at times and the sentence structure was very simplistic in parts of the book.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book (as much as you can use the word "enjoy" to describe visiting a place designed to torture and kill people) and give it a B.  I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley. 


  1. I went to the author's kick start. Does the book make more sense if you think of it as a screen play? She chose to publish the book in order to gain backing for a movie. She even, in a back way, concedes that it is not written in novel form. The Kickstart was really interesting to read. I'd like to read the book as well---or maybe put money toward the kickstart.

    1. One incident in the book that really made me raise my eyebrows was a Sunday soccer game between the inmates and guards. These overworked starved young men played soccer against the well-fed guards and, except for the fact that they knew it would be fatal to do so, would have won.