Later than billed, today I am sharing my review of the audiobook version of The Tattooist of Auschwitz. (Sorry! In my defence though, I did say probably Friday, not definitely). As a result of moving my blog to a self-hosted site, I have had a lot of back-end fixes to make. Naturally, this has eaten up my time. Apologies for any inconvenience folks – I am trying to get everything fixed as soon as I can!
So, without further delay –
The Tattooist of Auschwitz
The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov, two Slovakian Jews who survived Auschwitz and eventually made their home in Australia. In that terrible place, Lale was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival—literally scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. Lale used the infinitesimal freedom of movement that this position awarded him to exchange jewels and money taken from murdered Jews for food to keep others alive. If he had been caught, he would have been killed; many owed him their survival.
Like many survivors, Lale and Gita told few people their story after the war. They eventually made their way to Australia, where they raised a son and had a successful life. But when Gita died, Lale felt he could no longer carry the burden of their past alone. He chose to tell his story.
It is easy to forget that this is a story built around a true experience of the Holocaust. The depth of the narrative immerses you completely in the trials/ turmoils of Lale (pronounced La-le) and Gita Solokov. Taken away from his parents and transported to Auschwitz, Lale begins a new, cruel chapter of life. He is forced to tattoo the identification numbers on those brought into those awful concentration camps after him. Should he refuse, he would be killed and replaced without further consideration. Thousands died in that awful place (and many others just like it, no doubt).
Figuring that doing it in the kindest way he can is more merciful, he begrudgingly takes up the role. Exploiting what freedoms he has as a result of the role, he makes the lives of those he shares the camp with better.
“If he had been caught, he would have been killed; many owed him their survival.”
It is difficult to believe that the horrors re-lived in Lale’s narrative are based on the atrocities that did, in fact, happen. I will openly admit I had forgotten that the book was written from a survivor’s experience by the end. The narrative pulls you right into the story and you share the feelings of despair, hated and desperation along with our characters.
There are even times when the characters you think you should hate… the gun-wielding officers charged with policing the camps, are seen in a compassionate light. Described as barely more than children themselves, they are only acting as instructed; they aren’t made out to be as evil as they could be. I think there’s truth in that. The majority were probably only acting out of self-interest, or fear, just as the prisoners were. A survivor would have every right to portray these men as the monsters for their oppression. To recognise that there was more to them than that takes wisdom. It begs the question, were the officers prisoners, of a sort, as well?
I have taken to listening to audiobooks whilst getting ready for work in the morning. On the last day of listening to this book, I wanted to finish it so badly that I listened to it in the car. If you are… sensitive… to difficult topics such as this, I do not recommend listening to the last couple of chapters whilst trying to drive. That or even when you are going out in public, for that matter! I made that mistake but spared myself too many questions with the help of a
little bucket load of concealer.
The audiobook in itself is narrated remarkably well – I think Richard Armitage captured the tone of the text just right. Although the story covers a tragic and delicate topic, there were times in which to laugh; to love. Such is life… and at these times we, as the listener, were uplifted by these small victories. We very much feel a part of the fight to survive the oppression… and dream to live and love outside of the confines and squalour of the present as much as our protagonists do.
The Holocaust is always going to be a difficult topic to broach, but for me, that’s not a reason to shy away from it. It is only by educating ourselves and our children, then their children that we can seek to avoid making the same mistakes. I am by no means saying we will – but we can remain hopeful. I have tried to keep the detail to a minimum, as this will not be for everyone to read. If that is the case, then I wouldn’t recommend the book to you either. If, however, you enjoy historical fiction or have enjoyed reading books of a similar nature, then this will appeal to you.
It sounds awful phrasing it like that… but you know what I mean.