The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
In 1942, Lale, a refined young Slovakian Jew, finds himself in a rough, crowded box car, filled with other Jews, headed who knows where. He had “volunteered” as a worker to the Nazis, thinking it would save the rest of his family. After days of hunger, near suffocation, and standing, the doors of his boxcar are finally opened and he finds himself in a half constructed Nazi “work camp” named Auschwitz.
A number is tattooed on his arm and he begins to be initiated into the brutality of his new life. He quickly decides to do whatever it takes to survive. He keeps his head down, his mouth shut, and is very obedient to his Nazi oppressors.
He befriends another Jew, who has the job of tattooing the numbers on newly arrived prisoners, and he is told that by becoming a tattooist, a better life can be had. Lale jumps at the chance and is taught the tattooing and soon, after his patron disappears, Lale, becomes the camp tattooist and gets a bit more food and a room of his own.
Lale is stricken by love to Gita, one of the Jewish prisoners he has had to tattoo. Over the months, then years, their relationship grows, despite the restricted opportunities they have to be together. Gita works in a building, strangely called “Canada”, sorting the clothing confiscated from prisoners. There they sometimes find jewels or currency, hidden in the clothing.
Lale soon evolves into the camp’s wheeler-dealer, using the wealth Gita finds, to bribe workers from outside and guards, to get medicine and extra food for his fellow inmates.
As you might expect, the storyline was brutal and I only read short sections at a time, I really wasn’t very eager to start reading again, whenever I stopped. I think the whole concentration camp situation was just too depressing. Reading was easier and picked up after the Russians liberated the camp.
The book introduces the moral quandary of a Jew, helping the murderous Nazis carry out their exterminations, in order to save his own life. It seems an impossible situation that many of the camp “kapos” faced.
I didn’t realized until the end, that this novel was based on a true lives of Lale and Gita.
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