It seems like so long ago that I read a good book, let alone wrote about one! Since finishing my MA (even though it was a year ago), reading has been sporadic for me. If I’m on holiday, I read so much as there are no other distractions, yet at home, I find myself binging TV programmes and playing games on my phone. Reading has always been a passion of mine but for one reason or another, it has definitely taken a back seat. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to write for a living, but I’ve definitely figured out that I’m not cut out for fiction writing. I love researching and then writing about it. It is where my strengths lie and now I’m doing a job I love and that certainly highlights those strengths. Because I’ve been getting used to having a new schedule, I’ve been slacking on my blog, which is something I don’t want to do! I’ve had a lamb ragu cooking all day today so I will be popping that up on here tomorrow.
Enough digressing. I ordered some books on Amazon last week and thought I would set myself a target of reading one book a week. I used to easily do that! I love Pinterest and one of my boards is Books, and it is full of ones I want to read. One that kept popping up was The Tattooist of Auschwitz. After writing my dissertation on WWII in the form of a memoir, I knew it would be something I would love to read and I was right. I finished it in two nights, and one of those nights was forcing myself to put it down so I could actually sleep!
Lale Sokolov is a Slovakian, well mannered, charming gentleman. He bravely sacrifices his freedom to go to Auschwitz and “work” for the Germans. As a Jew, you were required “to pay back what you had stolen”. Little did Lale know, along with tens of thousands of others, that many were being sent straight to their death, or to work in unspeakable conditions.
The holocaust is one of the greatest atrocities of modern history, perhaps of all time, but Lale’s story is full of hope and love. That’s the thing I loved most about the book. Death surrounded those at Auschwitz and Birkenau, but so did friendship and love. Lale was intelligent and quickly worked out how to stay alive and not do hard labour. Although, perhaps, his role was worse. He stayed alive, but he was forced to tattoo the number the Nazi’s gave each prisoner when they arrived in the camp. This is where he met Gita.
Lale had always been confident with women, but Gita stole his heart when he first laid eyes on her. All he knew of her, was the number he was forced to tattoo: 34902. It was actually with the help of his SS guard, Stefan Baretski. Their relationship is quite unusual. Although Baretski had the power, he could have shot Lale anytime he wanted, he almost protected him and put him into contact with Gita. Without this act, it’s hard to tell if Lale and Gita would have ended up living the rest of their days together. Lale also offered advise on how to talk to and treat women, and Baretski told of his abusive upbringing. This was one of the surprise relationships of the book. Even though the SS guard was a bastard who shot prisoners whenever it took his fancy, he also showed a caring side to Lale and looked after him in some ways.
Morris does a fantastic job with re-telling Lale’s story. It’s moving, heart-wrenching and honest. Lale did whatever he could to survive. His charm and wit kept him alive in Auschwitz, when too many others died. He protected as many as he could and ultimately, found the love of his life. He was heroic, brave and intelligent. Morris has written with integrity and empathy. It really is a brilliant read and I couldn’t put it down.
It’s terrifying to think how many stories have gone to the grave with former prisoners of the Nazi’s or those who didn’t make it beyond the gas chambers. But those who have shared their stories are commendable and brave. They had strength that I doubt many of us today would not have.