Published by: Echo: Bonnier Publishing Australia
ISBN 13: 9781760403171
Published: February 2018
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Funded via Kickstarter, Morris brings us the story of two people who will come to be known as Lale and Gita Sokolov – both born under other names, but through the horrific events of Auschwitz and surroundings, and what they had to go through even when they weren’t behind barbed wire any longer, they found reason to seek other names for their future. Both Slovakian, introduced as prisoners, and finally winding up in Melbourne to tell Morris their story, we are drip fed their life from before, during, and after the war.
Lale was somehow fortunate (a weighted use of the word) to become, as the title says, the tattooist of Auschwitz. Sometimes working elsewhere but mainly there, he was one of those who cut into the arms of fellow prisoners, marked the numbers, then rubbed ink into the wound to create the tattoo. Gita, who had been a prisoner a little longer than Lale when they first meet, was also fortunate enough to work in administration – which however leaves each victim’s name blazoned in her memory where Lale only has numbers. They meet when Lale has to re-tattoo Gita’s faded numbers, and from there they keep meeting for short snatched minutes wherever possible, giving each other the strength when everything is hell in the limited hope they will someday be free and be able to marry.
During their years of incarceration, through intelligence, charm and charisma Lale manages to carve out ways to survive and look after those he can. There are women who are responsible for separating the shit personal items from the useful – when collected, the prisoners often didn’t know where they would be going and so would bring what wealth they could – and Lale makes connects with them to be smuggled money and jewels where possible. He endeavours to read people and situations, make himself invaluable, and treads as carefully as he can in order to barter limited food and medicine to dole out to those who need it to most. He’s not always careful enough, and comes close to death many times, however somehow manages (with a whole lot of luck, also) to make his way back to Gita every time.
This is a heartbreaking and deserving story. There are countless historical fiction novels out there about this subject, but Lale and Gita are both marvellous people who, yes, did terrible things, but also saved the lives of many others, and were people who were kind where – if they weren’t there – their place may have been taken with someone cruel and desperate, and in turn many more people may have perished.
This was a fast read. It’s not pleasant, it’s hard, and you can only feel shame that this was what was experienced by such a staggering amount of people. Lale says he tells his story so it won’t happen again. It’s now up to readers to take the time to understand the horrific past, and individually do whatever necessary to make this world a better place.