It's hard for me ding a book about such a grim true story of the Holocaust. And the life of Lale Sokolov, a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkenau who is pressed into service as the tattooist who brands identification numbers on his fellow prisoners, is as horrifying and affecting as any other. His is a story of love, courage, and--above all--survival. That focus on survival is interesting, as Sokolov uses his cunning throughout those years to keep both himself and others alive.
However, while the backstory is interesting, it's the book itself that fails the story. Marketed as a fiction book because of the liberties taken with some conversations and names, The Tattooist of Auschwitz probably could have passed as narrative nonfiction. But even under that heading, I found the writing rote and uninspired--merely a chronicle of events, rather than the telling of a story. For me, the storytelling just doesn't live up to other excellent narrative nonfiction, such as Unbroken, or even "autobiographical fiction," such as What Is the What.
This post may include affiliate links. That means if you click and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Please see Disclosures for more information.
This beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov—an unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity.
In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.
Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.
One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.
A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.