Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

By Lynn Willoughby

The Tattooist of Auschwitz ~ Heather Morris

This novel is based on the lives and memories of the two main characters – Lale and Gita.  They meet shortly after arriving in Auschwitz in 1942.  Lale’s work is tattooing identification numbers on each new inmate.

He is horrified and doesn’t think he can do this to humans, but as the days and weeks and years pass, he shuts down emotionally in order to survive.  The brutality, the suffering, the inhumanity and horrors he sees every day could easily unhinge him, but he told himself upon his arrival that he would survive.  He would one day walk out through those locked gates.  

I was anticipating reading this book, as several people had talked to me about it.  But I was very disappointed.  It reads like a series of incidents and doesn’t flow like a good book should.  The writing is simple and while the subject matter is gruesome at best, I never really connected with either Lale or Gita.  His privileges and extra rations, his trades with Victor and Yuri for food and medicines – that go on for years and are never once questioned, didn’t seem realistic nor jibe with the rest of life in the camp.  The most convincing relationship Lale has is with Baretski – the guard assigned to watch over him.  And while Baretski has the authority to shoot Lale at any given moment for the smallest of infractions, and Lale sees him shoot many others, they had developed a kind of friendship.

Lale’s true terror is from Doctor Mengele, who inspects prisoners as they arrive by the truckload.  He decides each fate – who will be put to work, who might be useful for human experimentation, who is too young or too old or sick and will be sent directly to the gas chambers.

“There are hundreds if not thousands of Holocaust fiction books in the English language.  This is not the one to read”  This summed up my feelings for this book.

Who Knew?

Josef Mengele, known as the “Angel of Death”, performed deadly human experiments on live prisoners at Auschwitz.  Just ten days before the Soviet forces arrived he was transferred to Gross-Rosen concentration camp.  After the war, he fled to South America where he evaded capture for the rest of his life.

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