Book Habit Blog - The Tattooist of Auschwitz

by Heather Morris

This novel imagines the lives of the prisoners of Auschwitz, two especially, Lale and Gita, and demonstrates that sacrificial and romantic love can exist at the the center of death. Actually, the verb should be must, not can. In spite of the Auschwitz directive, that brutality is to be the essential quality of this universe, Lale and Gita must defy that brutality. Their humanity directs them to do so. In choosing to love, they help themselves and others to survive.

Before the Holocaust, before the unimaginable, if men in uniforms came for you, or if you were told to assemble at the train station on this day at this hour, you might have thought, I can get through this if I listen and make no trouble. Lale shows us how this plays out. Herded into a cattle car and transported in desperate conditions, he begins to “feel less and less himself (4).” He understands immediately how where one stands is “your own space if you make it yours.”

He learns everything quickly, especially the rules whereby one survives the abyss.

In Auschwitz, Lale gathers knowledge. He looks for angles to play. He becomes the man who tattoos those brought into the camp. He figures out how to hide in plain sight. He sees what awful things men will do with unlimited power over others, but he also see prisoners pray, share their food, care for the sick, in other words, refuse to let their souls die. He does the same.

The improbable, true heart of the book is the love that opens up between Lale and Gita. This is love as subterfuge, love hidden by necessity, love as another reason to push through each heartbreaking day.

I will leave you with this: the book ends well, with rapture and hope. It will leave you thinking about adopting the precept “Whoever Saves a Life Saves the World” as the fundamental ethical commandment of our time.