The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

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 more than 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.

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a brilliant recounting of Lale’s (pronounced La-Lay) memories of the years he spent in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I have intended to read this book since its publication in 2018, but was hesitant because I didn’t want to read something that would be a sob-fest, and expected it to be given the subject matter. Although the book is certainly distressing in many ways, Morris’ writing style was driven by plot which kept the memoir moving swiftly along. I was able to connect to Lale and Gita, without becoming bogged down by grief and horror, partially because of this writing style, and partially because the love story between the two was so central to the novel. This brought a freshness to the book, and – at least in this story – helped to balance the evilness and tragedy inherent in the concentration camps with hope and love.

I listened to this book, as read by Richard Armitage. Armitage has a soothing voice and I could really connect to and imagine Lale through him. It felt like Lale himself was reading the book, a testament both to Armitage and Morris. However, I didn’t feel like Armitage did a great job of giving other characters their own “voice”. All of the Germans sound exactly the same in his impression of their accent, so that I could not tell who was speaking by voice alone. Likewise, when depicting Russian figures, each of those characters sounded exactly the same, making it difficult to distinguish them from each other. Thankfully, this is a small concern as the majority of the book is told from Lale’s POV.

Many of my friends are also reading / listening to The Tattooist of Auschwitz right now as it is our book club pick for the month, and we will be zoom meeting in early December to discuss it. I am excited to hear the other’s perspectives on it.

I heartily recommend The Tattooist of Auschwitz and plan to read the sequel, Cilka’s Journey.

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Published by Hannah

Former library clerk, current full-time teacher and employee. I love books and make no promises as to a posting schedule.

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