Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (2018, forthcoming)

The Holocaust on The Reading Life

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is a wonderful, must read edition to Holocaust literature.   It tells the story of Lale Sokolov, in charge of tattooing serial numbers on the arms of new arrivals at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland.  His official title was “tetovierer”.  

The story begins in the opening months of World War II, Sokolov’s hometown in Slovenia. He is Jewish but initially he is not greatly concerned over the Nazis as his country allowed Germany to take over without a fight.  He has a good job as a department store manager, is well educated speaking five languages including German, Russian, Polish and Yiddish.  He has a comfortable life, living with his parents.  His biggest hope is to find a woman to love all his life.  The Germans issue an order for Jews to report for 

 transportation to what they are lead to believe is a labour camp.  He voluntarily reports, thinking it will safe- guard his family.  Soon he is packed into a cattle car on a train headed for Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp.  Morris does a wonderful job depicting the horrible transportation and arrival at the camp.

Through luck and his ability to speak the languages of the Germans and most of their captives, he becomes assistant to the man, also a Jewish inmate, in charge of placing number tattoos on the arms of the arriving inmates.  He has been given a privileged job, working directly for the SS, with more food and better accommodations than the other inmates.  He worries he will be seen as a collaborator but above all he wants to survive.  

Soon the head Tattooist disappears, Solokov is made the tetovierer.  He is given an SS minder, and an assistant.  He tries not to hurt those the marks, being deeply ashamed of tattooing especially the women.  He begins to give some extra rations to the friends he made in the camp.  Morris reveals how he meets a woman in the camp, Gita, and falls 

in love with her.  She and her camp friends work sorting through the things Camp inmates have brought with them.  Solokov has made a kind of friendship with a Polish man who works day labour on building more facilities for the camp.  He exchanges gems and money the women find for more food for his friends.  He gets chocolate, a highly valued commodity, and gives it to the woman, an inmate, in charge of Gita’s barracks to get her more privileges.  Morris makes this all very exciting.  

Months then years go by, they find a way to consummate their love, Lela talks to her about their future outside the camp but Gita is afraid very much of getting her hopes up.  Of course tragic things happen to those Morris has made us feel deeply for.  We see how the inmates try to help each other to survive.  The encounters with the notorious Doctor Mengele were chilling.  I was so sad when I learned what happened to a good friend of Gita, forced into the role of mistress to the camp commandant.  Morris lets us feel the joy when Lale and Gita are reunited, after his search through the Waste Land of his home country.  

As I read the work I of course knew that Gita and Lale would survive, marry and have a long good life together, ultimately moving to Australia but it was super suspenseful waiting to see just what happened.  The account of the closing of the camps and Lale’s search for Gita were very thrilling.  

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Helen Morris is a very moving book, showing the survival of humanity in a brutal place.  I love this story.

Helen Morris spent four years getting to know Sokolov and learning his story.

Author autobiography from her Goodreads page

I am a Native of New Zealand now resident in Australia, working in a large public hospital in Melbourne. For several years I studied and wrote screenplays, one of which was optioned by an academy award winning Screenwriter in the U.S. In 2003, I was introduced to an elderly gentleman "who might just have a story worth telling". The day I met Lale Sokolov changed my life, as our friendship grew and he embarked on a journey of self scrutiny, entrusting the inner most details of his life during the Holocaust. I originally wrote Lale's story as a screenplay - which ranked high in international competitions - before reshaping it into my debut novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

I strongly urge all libraries to acquire this book and anyone at all interested in the Holocaust to read this magnificent story.

Mel u

1 comment:

Tamara said...

Mel U, thanks for this review. For some reason I do read holocaust literature, especially when theres a like to Australia. I think I'll put this on my post study reading lists.