Historical

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

This was technically a book that I read in November, but I finished it after my last on the bookshelf update, hence why it’s in here. And wow, what a book. I’ve recently joined a book club which has been set up in my village and as we have recently celebrated the centenary of Armistice Day, our first book is The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

Saying that I loved it or enjoyed it simply seems wrong given the topic, but I found it an emotional and sympathetic read. Morris did an amazing job of telling a story which acknowledges the horror of what was happening and doesn’t shy away from just how horrific a period in human history this is.

It follows Lale as he is transported to Auschwitz and becomes the Tatowierer. This is where he meets Gita, the girl he falls in love with. What follows is a love story that despite the horror of its original surroundings, fights to stay alive in a world where Lale or Gita may not live to see the dawn of the following day.

There are so many themes that weaves its way through The Tattooist of Auschwitz which is a blend of history and memory.  As Heather Morris says herself in the afterword: “The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a story of two ordinary people, living in an ordinary time, deprived not only of their freedom but their dignity, their names, and their identities, and it’s Lale’s account of what they needed to do to survive.” I find how any kind of hope and love can survive in a place as evil as Auschwitz nothing short of miraculous. A credit to the human spirit and just one example of the basic refusal to simply lie down and die under such horrific persecution.

It does make me wonder if this story been discovered and Lale uncovered as the tattooist of Auschwitz 20 years ago, would he have been prosecuted as a Nazi conspirator. I don’t know what the answer is, but I fear that the answer would have been yes. A bigger question though is, should his story overwrite his actions? And, is it right that he moves from villain to hero?

For me this is what The Tattooist of Auschwitz done so well: raise questions to which there are no easy answers. History often likes to look back on events objectively, in clean lines of black and white / right and wrong. As Lale’s story shows us though, it is often not that easy. Instead history exists in a Technicolor of grey where that line between hero and criminal can be blurred. Here is a man who branded thousands of innocent people with a mark which would haunt them for the rest of their lives. Yet he did so only as an act of his own survival. What would any of us have done in the same position?

Needless to say, I would recommend picking up The Tattooist of Auschwitz. It certainly not something I would have chosen for myself, but I think that it is a piece of living history that we should all ensure is never forgotten. I for one found it compelling and moving. Horror mixed with hope and history mixed with memories. It’s a difficult read in places but this is our history as well as Lale’s.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is currently available on Amazon for £2.63 for the kindle edition (affiliate link).

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