Reaction to The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Published by Bonnier Zaffre, January 11, 2018

Genre: Memoir | Biographical Fiction

Format: I audiobooked this one via purchased Audible book (Thanks, Mom).

My mom recommended this one. I was intrigued to read about the Holocaust from the point-of-view of the tattooist. I'd never thought about the person who was responsible for tattooing the human serial numbers on the arms of those entering Auschwitz and Birkenau during the Holocaust. I didn't realize until after I finished the book that this book is based on a true story.

Heather Morris is a New Zealander who moved to Melbourne in the 1990s. She met Lale Sokolov, nee Ludwig Eisenberg, through his son's social circles when Gary Sokolov was trying to connect his father with someone who might write Lale's story of survival. Morris agreed to hear and write the story, originally envisioning a screenplay and eventually launching a kickstarter to self-publish what would become The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Morris spent three years interviewing Sokolov about his life in the camps before Sokolov passed away in 2006. The book has sold over 3-million copies since it was published just a few years ago.

Critics of the book mention that it reads like a summer camp story compared to other Holocaust memoirs. After working briefly as a roofer in Auschwitz, Lale is rescued by the camp's resident French political prisoner and tattooist Pepan. Pepan sees Lale's friends push him out of a death cart after risking their lives to save him during sickness and decides that if someone were valuable enough for that level of risk, Pepan would help, too. Pepan manages to take on Lale as an apprentice, teaching him how to tattoo new entrants into Auschwitz with the serial numbers that will become their identification in the camp. Lale is disgusted, especially by the idea of tattooing women, marring them for life, but he clings to the idea of survival and does what he must to survive. Because Lale is the tattooist, he is given an SS guard,  a room in a special barracks of Auschwitz, and time off work. Through friendships, he finds a way to take bags of confiscated valuables from incoming prisoners to trade for food, which he shares with as many as he can. This makes his experiences in the camp different from others you might have read, but it's difficult to measure shades of dehumanization. Everyone's experience should be valued. It also should be considered that this book is not an autobiography. Lale, in his late 80s at the time, sat down with a writer his son's age, and gradually told his story. What parts of a trauma fade after 60 years? What parts of a trauma do you withhold or shade differently when speaking to a girl your son's age?

Aside from the brutality of its setting, this story is a romance. Lale meets his love while tattooing her arm. You'll have to read to see how this plot unfolds.

Morris is defensive about some of the critiques that the book misses the mark historically. Though based on her interviews, the book falters in some of the small research-based details. Morris has said that she never claimed to be a historian.


"It's unimaginable to him that a place of such horror should not be known." 


If you've read some of the most well-composed, heartfelt, and honest Holocaust memoirs and are comparing this to those, The Tattooist of Auschwitz may fall short for you. If you're open to reading a story that offers a unique look at Holocaust survival and finding humanity in darkness, you'll read this in a few hours.

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