There is no shortage of books about the Holocaust, or other horrors of war, but in The Tattooist of Auschwitz focuses on an intriguing story of one character.
The tattooist, Lale, leaves his comfortable life in Slovakia to report to a camp run by the Germans in April 1942. It is the start of a shocking experience in which Lale witnesses horror and experiences great pain, but also a great love. He is also on the receiving end of compassion from different quarters – from the starving prisoners, to the locals who offer him food.
One of the great kindnesses that Lale receives is when a prisoner offers him the chance to become the tatowierer, a role that offers him the luxuries of his own bedroom and extra rations. However, these benefits come at a price, making Lale wonder whether he is collaborating with his hated captors. Ultimately, he maintains his commitment to staying alive, and shares his small bounty when he can.
The fact that this story is based on the real experiences of Ludwig Eisenberg makes it all the more moving, and again serves as a reminder of the unimaginable cruelty of war. I found some scenes stopped me mid-page. There was one in which, in the calm of night, the newly imprisoned Lale walks outside to relieve himself. Some prisoners are quietly chatting at the makeshift toilets, when shots blast out, and the chatting stops. Here, Lale is introduced to the pitilessness of his captors.
Morris has written the extraordinary story of Lale and his fellow prisoners in a way that is sensitive, but also highly engaging. I read the book in just a few days.
The only problem is the questions it leaves with the reader regarding human nature, and how this could happen. But ultimately, this is a very good thing.