The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Author: Heather Morris
Published: January 27, 2018
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 3 stars
In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.
Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.
One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.
A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.
I have had my eye on this book for quite a while, so when I found it at Sam’s Club for cheap, I grabbed it! Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the hype. I love Holocaust literature and I am a huge supporter of Holocaust education. I’m not going to say that this is a bad book, because it isn’t. However, it is not my favorite Holocaust book. And to be clear, it is a work of fiction. Jessica sent me an article from the Auschwitz Memorial Museum and they pointed out that there’s too much vagueness and even straight up inaccuracies in Tattooist for them to recommend it as “valuable reading for people who want to learn and understand the history of Auschwitz.” I knew it was fiction when I picked it up so that doesn’t really surprise me nor does it change my feelings.
There are two reasons I’m giving it 3 stars:
The first does go along with what the Memorial said, that it wasn’t completely accurate, even in its general portrayal of Auschwitz. I’m a historian and I’ve studied the Holocaust so I have a standard already set in my head when it comes to the concentration camps and Tattooist doesn’t really meet it. Auschwitz sounded too livable in this book. It lacked a sense of horror that other accounts convey. I had to fill in what I already knew about Auschwitz to get that dread and terror that normally comes when reading about the Holocaust. That did bother me some.
The second reason is Lale himself. Far be it from me to criticize a Holocaust survivor and I completely acknowledge that our modern society influenced me in this case: Lale was a little pervy. He admitted to learning how to flirt with his mother, that his romantic expectations were set by his mother . . . and I just kept waiting for it to come out that he was actually a serial killer! I know that’s such a horrible thought, but it’s truly what I was expecting every time he brought up his mother and their relationship! I get that boys can learn how to treat women from their mothers, and I know that’s what was going on, but it still got a kinda cringey the more he talked about it. Too many times, I thought, “ok TMI! Didn’t want to know that! Keep that crap to yourself!”
I really wanted to love this book and it was ok, but I wouldn’t recommend this to too many people. Obviously if you like historical fiction, you’ll probably enjoy this book, but I would not recommend this to teens or as educational material.