The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
|The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: This might have been a straight biography, but in dealing with love that started at Auschwitz-Birkenau, perhaps it paradoxically needed the sheen of fiction to ever make us believe it.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: January 2018|
So, you arrive in all ignorance at Auschwitz, and see the horror there, and immediately swear to survive the ordeal to see retribution dealt on those behind it, but what do you do to see that oath out? Do you get to work diligently as the Nazis demand, to the extent you get the word collaborator muttered behind your back? Do you dare to stick your neck out and get a job that means you're actually a Jew working in the political wing of the SS, answerable to Berlin? Do you dare get contacts with civilian workers building the place, and trade the loot purloined from the incoming victims' belongings with food they smuggle in for you, under the eyes of all the camp guards? The man whose real life story inspired this novel did all that, and survived to tell the tale, but he also managed to do something even more daring, and unexpected – he dared to invest hope in a burgeoning love that he found in the camp.
Ludwig Eisenberg, or Lale as the book permanently calls him, is first seen on the cattle car, resplendent in his working suit and tie. His belongings and money are soon taken off him, and his clothes swapped for those taken off a Russian PoW, but he immediately leaps on the task of helping build the camp, living by the dictum that he should keep his head down and learn what he can. Roofing becomes something else, becomes being seconded to the man employed to scratch the tattoos of the inmates' ID numbers onto their left arms. And it's when he is doing this, with much reluctance, to a 'delivery' of females, that he spots a wondrously beautiful pair of the darkest eyes, and falls in love.
It is one of the rarer stories of the Holocaust, that dares to feature romance in such a place of misery, hopelessness and the dearth of birdsong. It's probably rare that a man became such a sort of wide boy, delivering this, collecting that, bribing this with that for the other, and so on, and got away with it, but that's secondary to this being a love story. We are assured a lot of due diligence was done to back everything up, although it still left a couple of furrowed eyebrows when I read these pages. Why can he speak French and not recognise the accent? Would he really get to see what he sees here before he falls ill? And why emphasise the girls' having being trained to keep shtum if it's their second time round?
What is also here to affirm the veracity of all this is a present tense, clearly employed to heighten our closeness to and empathy with Lale and the girl he loves. At times, however, it falls into a very light and naïve style, as if the book is just describing the as-yet-unmade film shot from the screenplay this book once was, so I do have to say things could have been presented in a more routine past tense to no detriment. It could also have easily been dressed slightly differently and been a straight biography – I hope sales are better with it being a novel, and that the charge doesn't get laid at their feet that things have been fictionalised, doctored – romanticised – too much. Oh, and would I want to see the film, were it ever to be created? I think so – it doesn't take much to get me in the camps, as I know what they looked and must have felt like from much other reading, but I still found freshness and novelty – and of course an important lesson about the human endurance and the resilience of a loving heart – from this read. We've had children in the camps, fantasias provided by fathers for their sons in ghettos, why not a romance?
The Germans don't come out of it at all well, of course – there is a horrid man, Lale's age, but completely ignorant of how to treat ladies. Lale knows this, as he's been quite a flirt all his life, but is reluctant to ever let the idiot get into a position where he can breed. It's also quite remarkable that with all the arrivals at both camps, and the distance between them, the Nazis only saw fit to ever employ two tattooists at the one time. But if you go, as I did, to Birkenau, you can walk as I did along the train tracks, and scoff how the sleepers have been dumped there willy-nilly with no diligence or regularity. The Nazis thought they were sticklers for the routine and precision – but their industrial killing machine was unable to wipe away the chance of love happening under their noses. Love happened, and the unlikely, nay downright impossible, happened, and this heartfelt book is a very enjoyable presentation of that.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington is a very clever fictional look at how someone might work to survive in Auschwitz.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.