Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz (a tale of loss, hardship, and holding on to hope)

The Tattooist of Auschwitz cover

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

No matter how many books I read on the Holocaust it never gets any easier to comprehend the horror and complete lack of humanity that took place at such a massive scale.

Plot Overview:

“This beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov—an unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity.” (Amazon)

Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction
**Based on the true story of Lale Sokolov

My Rating (out of 5): 

Thoughts for those who have not read the book:

Personal stories of Holocaust survivors are always a heavy read. There are a great number of tragic and horrific events portrayed in this novel which are all based on real life occurrences. However, I believe it is important to read and learn about these experiences. It is our responsibility to know what happened and to carry that knowledge with us so that the stories of these people are never lost.

This story in particular gives the reader a slightly different look into life in the concentration camps. There were not many people who had the job of being the “Tattooer” – and this job did give Lale slightly more access to things and even gave him a small amount of privilege during his years in Birkenau.

Aside from the heavy and hard-to-stomach content in the novel, the actual writing  was fast-paced, gripping, and pretty easy-to-read. This particular novel is less description based and more based on human interaction, dialogue, and quick descriptions of events. There isn’t a ton of in-depth descriptions of the environment – which I would have liked to read. And also, because this story was pieced together from interviews with Lale Sokolov, there are not many instances where the author really delves into Lale’s personal thoughts or memories from before the camp – which I also would have liked to read.

All in all, however, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in knowing the stories of the men and women who lived during the Holocaust.

More in-depth thoughts and opinions for those who have read the book:

There were so many times during this book where I just could not believe how much Lale managed to get away with. Between talking back to Baretski now and again…

“Just because she likes your uniform doesn’t mean she likes you” – Lale to Baretski pg. 58

…to getting Gita out of work to meet him, to saving the boy who had escaped and been caught, to actually getting caught himself with the mattress of gems and bills.

Especially when so many people lost their lives for so much less. Like the men who were murdered in the beginning when they were going to the bathroom at night.

There was a line in the book where someone told Lale he had nine lives – and they really weren’t kidding.

— Which is actually a similarity I’ve found in many of the books I’ve read about life during the Holocaust. Often times the people who survived seemed to have exactly that – nine lives. That, and a lot of the time the people who survived were able to speak multiple languages. Being able to communicate with as many people as possible seemed to be a huge asset.

And again, just like many of the books I’ve read about life during the Holocaust there was a lot of instances of nonchalant horror and cruelty. I’m not positive if nonchalant is quite the right word to use – maybe ‘blantant’ would be a bit better. But I just mean that the cruelty was mentioned in an almost casual manner. Which speaks to the fact that these actions occurred so often – they were the norm. It’s a really hard concept to stomach.

“His eyes seem to see nothing; this is a man whose soul has died and whose body is waiting to catch up with it.”
pg. 100

The massive scale of the Holocaust is also difficult to comprehend. When you really connect such large numbers of death to individual people it’s almost too heavy to grasp. When Lale needed to put together a soccer team to play the SS (or football rather) one of the prisoners said, “I know a guy in block 15 who played on the Hungarian national team. I’ll ask him if you like?” (pg. 117).

To think that it didn’t matter who you were before the Holocaust, where you came from before the Holocaust, how many children you had, or siblings you had, what your education was, what your views were, what your profession was. It didn’t matter in any which way who you were. Millions of lives were just upended – and millions and millions of people allowed it to happen.

“You’re upset. I can see that.” – Baretski to Lale after they see the bodies in the oven.

It will always be shocking to me that there were so many willing participants in the Holocaust. And not just willing but wanting.

The SS who shot prisoners for falling, or for looking at them a certain way, or just because they wanted to. Baretski for shooting the group of tired prisoners sitting on the ground just because, I don’t know, he was having a bad day. The SS who shot at the prisoners, including the Romany children after the American plane passed overhead. The SS who viewed it all as a game.

“The painting of the Romany woman Gita brought with them from Slovakia still hangs in Gary’s house.”
pg. 254

I am glad to know Lale’s story. His experiences during the Holocaust are both extremely unique, as well as all too similar to the others who suffered in the camps. I am glad he and Gita were able to live their lives together. And I am glad that both of their stories will live on.

May the millions and millions of people who lost their lives during the Holocaust never be forgotten.


Have you read the Tattooist of Auschwitz? 

Do you have any books to recommend? 

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