The Tatooist of Auschwitz-Heather Morris   2 comments

I look out for Holocaust literature to read, so jumped at the opportunity to receive this text from Netgalley. My husband is a Holocaust specialist, and his expertise has birthed a fascination with the literature in myself.

I was surprised initially that this was not published by Yad Vashem, as much Holocaust literature is. Then I noted it was marked as a novel, but claimed to be based on reminisces of a genuine Holocaust survivor living in Australia. He had chosen to share his story in his last days to the author.

The book had been written originally as a screen play, and then novelised. I wondered why it needed to be a novel, surely it was a non-fiction memoir?

After reading the book, I was left with a disconcerted feeling. I did not feel the usual horror and emotional connection I have experienced with previous testimonies.

The story is of Lale Sokolov who is the tattooist of Auschwitz. He gains more freedom due to his position and uses it to smuggle in food and medicines which he shares with other prisoners, and also develops a relationship with one of the female prisoners. Both survive and marry, later emigrating to Australia, they remained together until Gita, his wife died and now Lale was waiting to join her.

As a basic novel, the story was touching and would work on film, but it was very improbable.

I discussed the details of the book with my husband and he did some checking, as he also had qualms about the validity or at least plausibility of many of the details. Within the book it claims that all historical details have been checked, but I dispute this.

Perhaps it is a fictional device to claim this. I would presume it was entirely fictional except there are photographs of Lale and Gita in the text. So who is responsible for these glaring discrepancies? It is important that all details in Holocaust literature are completely accurate as Holocaust deniers look for any inconsistencies to prove their cruel theories.

It would take an essay to list all of the potential discrepancies, I will mention the most obvious. It would appear very little research has gone into the tattooists of Auschwitz, but other accounts list a row of several tattooists, not just 1 or 2. The sheer number of people they tattooed makes the use of so few improbable.

The freedom Lale had is most unlikely for a Jew to have gained, whether he was of Kapo level or not. Many of the places mentioned are in the wrong place, but most importantly the Jewish male and female prisoners were segregated in separate sections of the camp. They did not have Sundays to relax and mix together. It would have been almost impossible to maintain a relationship the way Lale claims.

My best guess, is that Lale has attempted to fictionalise his life, placing himself as the hero, to assuage some of the guilt he held for collaborating. This is very sad, and may explain the fiction claim of the novel, but I believe any distortion of the facts in this sensitive subject is a mistake. Alternatively, the author may have sensationalised the story for her own ends, but the end result is the same. Like ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, this will face much criticism from Holocaust specialists on publication.


Posted December 26, 2017 by dianne7 in book review

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2 responses to “The Tatooist of Auschwitz-Heather Morris

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  1. I never thought about checking the validity of the story, but I agree about the disconnected feeling. The story had no emotional pull, felt like parts were added just to make it more appealing. I have read a lot of Holocaust stories, and was really looking forward to this one, but was hugely disappointed. It was written by a screenplay writer, so that may explain the lack of connection between characters and readers. Thanks for your review.


  2. Some of the historically inaccurate parts really bothered me too- like men and women together on a Sunday afternoon? Never.


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