Over the past few years there have been many books written about World War II, and rightly so. It is a jarring event that happened in the history of the world that destroyed the lives of millions of people and changed the course of world history. Since its publication in 2018, The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris has climbed the literary ladder to become an international bestseller with a rich story about a man who tattooed the victims in Auschwitz with their numbers. I just finished this book last week, and it was a journey.
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My mom was the one who told me about The Tattooist of Auschwitz, since she read it with her book club around the time that the book first came out. She could not say enough good about it, so I put it on my to-read list. I finally put a request in at my library to get it on my Kindle, had to wait a few weeks, but was excited when it finally landed in my Kindle library.
Because of The Tattooist of Auschwitz being an international bestseller, I feel like I see this book everywhere. Seeing it everywhere, I knew I needed to read it soon and finally get on the bandwagon of people who rave about this book. When I finished it, I was truly moved by the story and how the tattooist, Lale, and his love, Gita, fight for their survival in Auschwitz.
** SPOILERS AHEAD**
I think the hardest part about reading books about World War II is knowing that this really happened and millions of people were senselessly murdered. Reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz very much brought this horrific historical event to life and gives you a very real picture of what living in those conditions was like. Seeing Auschwitz through Lale's eyes, it was interesting to see the responsibility you could feel having a "higher" position than other prisoners.
There was a lot of pride in feeling a support for Lale. Because of his position as the tattooist, he was able to have extra rations of food, which he could have very easily kept for himself. But instead, he shared what little extra he had with the other prisoners in order to try and save their lives as well. I also loved seeing him use his privilege to take jewels and money and buy food for other prisoners from the townsfolk nearby.
Lale was able to save lives through his actions, and even after being tortured for doing so, he risked his life to continue helping those around him. With all of the things that he saw, he knew he had to fight back in some way to make the most of his situation and prevent more people from dying. He was surrounded by death, but was motivated by life to survive and inspire others to survive.
It takes a lot of strength for Lale to do his job and not lose his mind over the atrocities happening all around him. When they put groups of Jewish prisoners into the gas or crematorium chambers, he can see the fumes and smoke as well as ash, which causes him to scream at the Nazis near him when he is tattooing.
I think the most difficult part for me was towards the end when they had two prisoners with the same number and Lale had to go into the chamber of bodies to identify and clarify. It is described as being a large room full of dead bodies laying in unnatural ways and truly being absolutely horrific. A big question I always had in regards to the Nazis is didn't they feel anything when seeing these mass piles of bodies? Didn't they have any remorse for this lack of respect for human life, for taking away the dignity of millions of people and slaughtering them?
After this experience, Lale is traumatized by what he has seen and ends up dry heaving behind a building. I can't imagine what this must have been like and it makes it even more remarkable thinking of the people who survived and had to live with the memories of the nightmare they lived through.
I was so genuinely happy at the end of the book when Lale and Gita are reunited and able to finally get married and be together for the rest of their lives. For those who survived, I am sure it was difficult adjusting back to a normal life, and having someone by your side who understood would be extremely helpful.
Even though I have read quite a few historical fiction books about World War II, the horrors of it are still difficult to fathom. It pains me to think of people performing such disgusting acts on other humans on such a massive scale. The aftermath of World War II has left destruction and devastation across the globe and it is mind boggling to think it was less than 100 years ago.
Heather Morris has woven a colorful tapestry of the events of Auschwitz through the lens of Lale, and I highly recommend this book to anyone. It is very interesting, but also not super long, making it a relatively quick read. As I read the book, I could imagine being there in the concentration camp and what it could have felt like and looked like. Morris did an incredible job of creating a World War II story of survival that was also a love story.
Comment below if you have also read The Tattooist of Auschwitz and what you thought of it! Have you also read Heather Morris' latest book, Cilka's Journey? That is another one on my TBR list this year, so no spoilers!