I’d heard about this novel when it first came out, but it was after recently listening to an interview by Richard Armitage, who is the narrator on Audible, that I decided to purchase it with my monthly credit, and I’m so glad I did. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is more than a book, it’s an emotional experience.
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.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz is one of the most emotional love stories I’ve ever read. It’s about Lale and Gita, both from Bratislava, who meet and fall in love in a concentration camp in Poland.
It’s the story of Lale’s resourcefulness, strength, tenacity, goodness and love for Gita, during the three years they spent in the camp, and how he found her again when they lost touch after leaving Auschwitz.
It’s also about the horrors of war, the cruelty humans are capable of, and the need to take risks and compromise in order to survive.
The struggle for survival in extreme situations is complex and unimaginable for those who have never experienced it. The emotional and psychological cost of that survival is just as unimaginably distressing, and also comes across in the narrative.
Yet the end of the novel, the epilogue and their son’s testimony, makes it ultimately an uplifting novel, because there is more gratitude and faith in the future than bitterness or desire for vengeance about the past.
In the end it’s not a novel about war or evil, it’s about the power of love.
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