The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a novel based on a true story that provides insight into yet another aspect of concentration camps in World War II. In April of 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, joined many others on a train bound for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Sokolov was singled out for his ability to speak a number of languages. Using those skills to assist in “welcoming” prisoners, he was given the added task of tattooing the forearms of men and women who were designated for the work camp.
This meant Sokolov was assured some measure of preferential treatment. His shame was immense as he carried out the dehumanizing task of replacing a person’s name with a number. One way Sokolov provided himself with some release from his guilt was by committing names and faces to memory. Sokolov joined others like himself in turning the privilege of position into an opportunity to bargain, steal, or smuggle extra food, drink, and medicine to people who were desperate and dying.
A few months in, Sokolov found himself face to face with a beautiful and terrified young woman. He searched her out in the camp, fell in love, and vowed to help her survive and to marry her when the nightmare of war was over. A few months turned into three years.
Sokolov and his love survived the death camp; they married and lived out their years in Melbourne, Australia. The story would remain untold for 50 years. The burden of guilt and shame caused Sokolov to carry his story of being the “tattooist of Auschwitz” in secrecy. With “mistaken fear and paranoia” he thought he would be considered a collaborator, writes author Heather Morris. Morris recorded Sokolov’s memories following the death of his wife. The Tattooist of Auschwitz joins the hundreds of stories, told or untold, of endurance, the will to live, and the spirit of humanity to help each other in the face of unspeakable horror. (HarperCollins)