The Tattooist of Berlin by Heather Morris Bonnier Zaffre January 11th 2018
This is the true story of Lala and Gita Sokolov and their incarceration in Auschwitz.
Lale was the tattooist or Tetovierer, labeling all the incoming prisoners for survival. A job that entailed scratching numbers into arms with indelible ink, a mark that would stay with them throughout their lifetime.
Given more freedom than many of his fellow prisoners Lale was able to move about the camp exchanging jewels and money from the dead for food that he would distribute amongst his fellow prisoners.
A charming, amiable young man, Lale was determined to survive, a determination strengthened when he meets Gita, tattooing her identification number as she arrives in camp. It was love at first site and its is a love that will see them both survive the terrible atrocities they witnessed and endured.
Lale is such a wonderful character. Charming, focused, with a steely determination to make the best of his situation for himself but more importantly for his fellow prisoners. The risks he took could have and very nearly cost him his life. The sheer hell that he witnessed would have broken many men, but not Lale, he accepted his lot and got on with it. Perhaps one of the most poignant passages in the novel is of Lale sat tattooing the new arrivals as ash descends on him from the cremation huts, Lale continuing with his job as the dead bodies of those had been gassed were burnt.
Gita, the love of his life, is also determined to survive, working in the administration block living for Sundays when she and Lale can share stolen moments, a small break from the horrors of everyday life.
The descriptions and the imagery perfectly portray the horrors of life in the concentration camps. Morris tells of the brutality of the SS Officers and the guards and also of those prisoners who have the grim task of burning bodies, sorting through the belongings of the dead and in some cases inflicting harm to gain names of troublemakers.
For all the horrors Lale and Gita endured, what shines through is their love for each other, a love that never falters and will see them survive, marry and eventually have a successful and full life in Australia.
Perhaps because of the subject matter I found it hard to criticise the novel. It is not perfect and there are flaws, particularly with some of the flash backs to Lale’s previous life, but these are unimportant when Morris is retelling the true story of an incredible man.
This is not a comfortable read and nor should it be. What the Jews and other minority groups suffered at the hands of the Nazi’s is something the world should never forget. The fact that this is a true story makes it all the more horrific, yet it has glimmers of hope and humour and ultimately love.
About the author
Heather Morris lives in Australia and for several years worked in a large public hospital in Melbourne.At the same time she studied and wrote screenplays.
In 2003 Heather met Lale Sokolov, an event that would change her life. They formed a close friendship in which Lale slowly began to tell his story which Heather originally wrote as a screenplay. She eventually reshaped into her debut novel, ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’