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The Tattooist of Auschwitz

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EXCERPT: Thirsty and exhausted, he is surprised when the piece of paper is yanked from his hand. An SS officer pulls off Lale's jacket, rips his shirtsleeve and pushes his left forearm flat on the table. He stares in disbelief as the numbers 32407 are stabbed into his skin, one after the other by the prisoner. The length of wood with a needle embedded in it moves quickly and painfully. Then the man takes a rag dipped in green ink and rubs it roughly over Lale's wound. 

The tattooing has taken only seconds, but Lale's shock makes time stand still. He grasps his arm, staring at the number. How can someone do this to another human being? He wonders if for the rest of his life, be it short or long, he will be defined by this moment, this irregular number: 32407.

THE BLURB: The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov, two Slovakian Jews who survived Auschwitz and eventually made their home in Australia. In that terrible place, Lale was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival - literally scratching numbers into his fellow victims' arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. Lale used the infinitesimal freedom of movement that this position awarded him to exchange jewels and money taken from murdered Jews for food to keep others alive. If he had been caught, he would have been killed; many owed him their survival.

There have been many books about the Holocaust - and there will be many more. What makes this one so memorable is Lale Sokolov's incredible zest for life. He understood exactly what was in store for him and his fellow prisoners, and he was determined to survive - not just to survive but to leave the camp with his dignity and integrity intact, to live his life to the full. Terrible though this story is, it is also a story of hope and of courage. It is also - almost unbelievably - a love story. Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale - a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer - it was love at first sight, and he determined not only to survive himself but to ensure that Gita did, too. His story - their story - will make you weep, but you will also find it uplifting. It shows the very best of humanity in the very worst of circumstances.

Like many survivors, Lale and Gita told few people their story after the war. They eventually made their way to Australia, where they raised a son and had a successful life. But when Gita died, Lale felt he could no longer carry the burden of their past alone. He chose to tell his story. (Publisher's Summary)

MY THOUGHTS: Oh! The inhumanity of human beings towards other human beings knows no bounds. And, worst of all, I don't believe we have learned a damned thing because we just keep making the same mistakes over and over again, and always with a sense of righteous justification. 

Lale and Gita's story is indescribable. But it is important that it be told. We can read these stories, and be horrified, appalled, but we can never really know, in our hearts or our heads, how it felt to endure what they endured. We cannot even begin to understand what they went through, and for that we shall be grateful. Grateful that we shall never have to experience standing outside with the ashes of our friends raining down upon us from Crematorium chimneys. Grateful that we are not ripped from our families, herded like cattle, starved, beaten, and experimented upon like laboratory rats. And let us show our gratitude by ensuring that anything like this can never happen again, be it on the massive scale seen in WWII, or on a personal level. Please be kind to one another, help one another, respect one another. Because if we don't, are we any better than the SS?

Thank you to author Heather Morris for her perseverance. A lot of what she was told by Lale cannot have been easy to listen to or transcribe. I would imagine she had more than a few nightmares. 

Thank you to Bonnier Publishing, Australia via Netgalley for providing a digital copy of The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions. 

Please refer to my profile page or the 'about' page on for an explanation of my rating system. 

This review and others are also published on my blog
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Books about the Holocaust are never easy reading and this one is heartbreaking but also uplifting.  Lale and Gita’s story is a powerful reminder of how the human spirit can overcome even the most desperate and seemingly impossible situations. 
I’ve seen some negative reviews of this book and some very unkind comments about Lale. All I can say is that unless you have walked in his shoes or any of the other survivors then you cannot judge him or what he and countless others did to survive. 
My thanks to Netgalley for this copy.
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After visiting Anne Frank House and studying genocide this summer, I made a resolution to read more books about the Holocaust. Usually, I find sad accounts like these hard to get into, but this book did not disappoint. It was surprisingly enjoyable and easy to fall into, despite the fact that I was horrified every step of the way by the atrocities Lale and Gita saw every day. This book amazed me with its unique perspective on “life” in a concentration camp and details about Auschwitz it shared that only a survivor could know about (I won’t spoil anything because everyone should read this). I’m so grateful that Lale and his family agreed to share his experiences as a Holocaust survivor in this book— It’s perhaps more important now than ever to keep these stories alive, especially as many survivors have passed away. 

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.
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Feb 06, 2018  ·  edit
really liked it

4.5 stars!!

This is a historical fiction novel based on a true story. Lale Sokolov tells his story based on true events. He became the main tattooist of Aushwitz and falls in love at first sight with Gita who he first met tattooing her arm. He tattoos all the new prisoners with their identification numbers. Lale is a Jew. He is on the first transport of men from Slovakia to Auschwitz in 1942. The concentration camp was very horrifying. Lale did have some special privileges, since he was the tattoist. He had lots of freedom than the other prisoners. He was so brave and had lots of courage. He would exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep others alive. If he was caught he would of been killed. Many prisoners owed him their survival. He was a leader among the other prisoners. 

Their are some graphic scenes that are a little dark. This book stands out from other Holocaust related novels. It is an emotional read. The Nazi guards are monsters, they kill and hurt human beings. Lale was determined to survive. This is a terrible story but it also is a story of hope and courage. 

I really did love this story. It was almost like reading a memoir, but a little different than a memoir. This story is an emotional read, but I also found it uplifting at times. 
The Holocaust was horrific and couldn't believe all the awful things that happened in the concentration camp. I would say this is a safer read than other Holocaust novels.
I really loved Lale's true story. I am so happy that the author spent a lot of time with him, to tell his story. 

She really did an amazing job on his character. All the characters were very well done and made this novel come alive. I loved the love story between Lale and Gita and how they fall in love at first sight. I love a romance in a novel only when there is lots of suspense. Its always the suspense that I am looking for and this one has ok
plenty of it. 

I felt so sad for Cilka, and everything she went through. I also felt sad for Leon. There are some scenes that are graphic but this is the Holocaust, a horrifying time and as I mentioned before this is a safer read than other Holocaust books. 

I could not put this book down. It was a page turner. I loved the writing style. I am really loving historical novels more and more because I think they are needed because we need to remember what happened so that history isn't forgotten.

This was a Traveling Sister read and I loved reading this with them and it was a wonderful discussion. This is a great book to do as a group read.
I want to thank Netgalley, the publisher and Heather Morris for a copy of this book in exchange for a honest review.
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This is such an important read. It's important to keep re-telling these stories, so that people know that not only did it happen, but how easily it could happen again.

Heather Morris writes at the beginning, and again at the end of this book, that originally she was writing this to be a screenplay and then changed her mind to create the book that we have today. I think this would also be a powerful film - and so perhaps she has created both a stirring memoir type book, as well as a potential movie.

Heather Morris spent three years speaking to, and documenting, Lale Sokolov's time in Auschwitz - after his wife Gita passed away, he wanted to finally document the events that brought them together. 

Lale was sent to Auschwitz and became known as the tattooist - a job that afforded him a little security, but that also required that he marked thousands of people with their Nazi identification number. One of the people he marked was Gita, a beautiful girl who touched his soul immediately. Through the re-telling we see how together they stayed alive, how their love brought about hope, how Lale did his best to care of those around him (when he had extra portions, he brought them to others, how he got Gita out of working in the Canada location and into the office, to keep her warm and "safe"). This is a story about how human will and triumph can surpass the evil in this world.

I am calling this a memoir, because although Lale didn't write it himself, Heather Morris took such care in the transcribing of his story, that it felt like Lale was the original author. She was able to detach herself from what must have been heartbreaking stories, and give us an account that leaves you uplifted.

An important read. I think everyone needs to read Night - and would say this book is another must read.

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A very thought provoking book. I was not reading it for the longest time thinking it would be too upsetting however the writing style was such that it made you think rather than get emotional. A must read especially in today’s environment when we need a reminder on not to repeat the past.
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These days tattoos seem to have become a fashion statement, a major part of pop culture.  They are now an accepted way for an individual to express themselves and typically involves some careful decision making about what to incorporate, what message the individual wishes to convey, which tattoo they'll be happy to grow old with.      There couldn't be any greater contrast between the meaning and sentiment behind the tattos forced upon the arms of millions of men and women of the WWII Nazi concentation camps.      Tattooing each person with a number was a way to strip the person of their identity, to reinforce the message that the individual had no personal choice in the matter, and as for growing old with the tattoo, well we must Never Forget the fact this was impossible for many millions of the worlds Jewish population.       

Heather Morris dedicated years of her life gathering one survivors  memories then wove them into this touching and important work of biographical fiction.     Through her book we learn about Lale's personal experience as The Tattooist of Auschwitz.     Lale was a Slovakian Jew who found himself assigned this role which carried certain benefits in the hellhole that was Auschwitz,  but also left him carrying a sense of guilt...‘I have been given the choice of participating in the destruction of our people, and I have chosen to do so in order to survive. I can only hope I am not one day judged as a perpetrator or a collaborator.’  Whilst this novel contained potent reminders of the very real horrors of the concentration camps, unlike many other holocaust stories it also contained a beautiful love story.   At Auschwitz Lale met and fell in love with Gita.  They did everything possible to keep each other alive in the hope that one day they may be freed and could marry.      This sense of hope and optimism carried them through some of the most brutal of times and shielded them against the deaths that surrounded them.    I wholeheartedly agree with Graeme Simsions words of recommendation... This is a story about the extremes of human behaviour existing side by side: calculated brutality alongside impulsive and selfless acts of love. I find it hard to imagine anyone who would not be drawn in , confronted and moved. I would recommend it unreservedly to anyone, whether they’d read a hundred Holocaust stories or none.’ 

Sincere thanks to Heather Morris and Echo Publishing for bringing this story to light, and to NetGalley for the digital ARC received in exchange for my honest review.
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The Tattooist of Auschwitz is the harrowing true story of Lale, a Slovakian who survived the horror of the World War Two concentration camps. It is a story of love, and a story of survival. Lale's unwavering optimism that he, and the woman he loved (Gita) would survive the camp and start a life together made this book read like a hopeful love story, despite the horrible circumstances in which it was set.

Lale was the Tätowierer, it was he who scratched the identification numbers into his fellow prisoner's arms, as gently as he could. It was this position that afforded him extra rations and more freedom to move about the camp. Lale used his position to help keep others alive, trading jewels for food and rations that he distributed through the blocks.

Although this book recounts true events, it reads much like fiction. This makes the writing more palatable for me, as someone who does not read many non-fiction books it is refreshing to be able to consume Lale's story in a way that is familiar and easy to read.

While the book is not particularly graphic there are many moments that left me stunned at the absolute cruelty of what happened at these camps. Simply telling the reader was enough, I like that the author did not delve into every gruesome detail of some of the horrors committed.

This is an important story and I am glad that Lale got the chance to tell it. It offers a unique perspective of the war that I hadn't encountered before.
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I was lost in the all my heart and soul lush coulee with eight of my Traveling Sisters reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a compelling and unforgettable story of hope and courage that is so beautifully written based on interviews with Holocaust Survivor Auschwitz-Birkenau Tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. Lale with compassion and sensitivity, tattoos numbers on the arms of prisoners. While doing this he forms a connection with Gita that leads to a tender and charming love story. 

Heather Morris does a good job capturing the life of Lale and the conditions he lived with, without adding unnecessary graphic scenes that we all really appreciated here. At times the story is dark and haunting and we really could feel the heartbreak of the horrific setting of this story. We also felt hope in the love and affection Lale and Gita had for each other in such dark times. Some of us did feel the love story seemed hard to believe under such horrific conditions but still allowed us to feel hope in times that seemed so hopeless. 

This is Lale’s account of what he needed to do to survive with dignity and I am so glad I got the chance to hear this uplifting and inspiring story of courage and love. I hope you all do too and I highly recommend. 

Published on January 27, 2018

Thank you NetGalley, Bonnier Publishing and Heather Morris for a copy to read and review. 

All of our Traveling Sisters Reviews can be found on our sister blog:
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A book about the Holocaust that is also a love story, read in a very short space of time(for me) tells me all I need to know about this fascinating book. 

So it’s a novel, you could say based on a true story but it’s somewhere in between that and a work of non fiction as the source material is all based around the retelling of his time in Auschwitz from our main protagonist and tattooist of Auschwitz - Lale Sokolov. 

Without going into too much detail, as it’s a fascinating read, it is his story, how he arrives at Auschwitz, becomes the tattooist and falls in love with a fellow prisoner called Gita. It’s the story of his incredible courage and guile and will to survive and mostly his compassion for and helping of his fellow prisoners. 

I went into this knowing little if anything of the story. I didn’t even read the synopsis for it and feel better for not doing so as I had no idea if either or both survived the concentration camps and although it may not be the be all and end all when this is documenting from the inside the horrific goings on in Auschwitz, it is a novel(of sorts!) after all and I felt the better for not knowing what lay ahead while reading. 

There are of course many harrowing passages and it never ceases to amaze me how cruel mankind can be to itself, but it’s also a story of extraordinary courage, empathy and love. I thoroughly enjoyed it, weird as that may sound. The human spirit can be so magical, shining from one being when all around is utter hatred and destruction. 

I’m giving this five stars purely because the story is so extraordinary. It’s well told here. I read this in large chunks which is unusual for me so the author had me drawn in with her writing and telling of the story. An easy recommendation to anyone interested in that time or indeed reading about a story of hope and of love, in a world that had descended into hate. 

Many thanks to NetGalley, Bonnier Publishing and Heather Morris for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Author Heather Morris met Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew and survivor of Auschwitz who became the inspiration for this book. Sokolov did not speak publicly about his wartime experience until 2003 when Morris interviewed him over a period of three years (he died in 2006).  What a privilege it must have been to learn of his experiences first-hand.

This is an emotional reading experience that stands out from many Holocaust related novels I’ve read. Lale’s perspective is that of a tattooist etching numbers on prisoners. I likened him to a cat with nine lives, his remarkably brave acts under the noses of German soldiers could have earned him a bullet in the head many times over. His positive nature is a big part of what kept him alive, his kindness to others reaping life-changing rewards later. He most certainly would not have survived without it.

I especially enjoyed the story within the story of Lale and Gina’ relationship who first meet when Lale tattoos her arm. Love at first sight. How they could manage small moments of happiness together within Auschwitz and live to tell about it is an unforgettable story of love and survival.
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Ahoy there me mateys!  Though this log’s focus is on sci-fi, fantasy, and young adult, this Captain does have broader reading tastes. So occasionally I will share some novels that I enjoyed that are off the charts (a non sci-fi, fantasy, or young adult novel), as it were. I received this non-fiction eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  So here be me honest musings . . .

the tattooist of auschwitz (Heather Morris)

Title: the tattooist of auschwitz

Author: Heather Morris

Publisher: Bonnier Publishing Australia / Echo

Publication Date: Available Now! (hardback/ebook)

ISBN: 978-1785763649

Source: NetGalley

In 2016, according to this Time magazine article, there were about 100,000 Holocaust survivors still alive.  In 2014, there were 500,000.  So how many are there in 2018?  I couldn't find the numbers.  But what I do know is that we will soon be in an era where there are no first person witnesses.  That is why books like this continue to be important and why I continue to read them.  To keep the memories alive and honor the victims of the tragedy.  When there are ridiculous people trying to deny the impact of the Holocaust or say it never happened with living proof, I shudder to think what will happen when all the survivors are gone.

Also with many survivor's reticence to talk about their Holocaust stories, every one is precious.  With each one that is told there are millions that have that have been lost.  Within these true stories ye get to see human ingenuity, human kindness, and above all, love in horrible situations.  Some people do break.  Some survive.  All matter.

This novel details the experiences of Lale Sokolov who was a tattooist at Auschwitz, found love in the camps, and survived to make a life outside afterwards  He only chose to tell this story after the loss of his beloved wife in 2003.  I won't say much about the plot because me words don't do it justice.  But this book is important that I am honored and humbled that Lale shared his story.

So lastly . . .

Thank you Bonnier Publishing Australia / Echo!

Side note:much thanks to Inge @ thebelgianreviewer for making me aware of this book's existence.  Check out her review here!

Netgalley's website has this to say about the novel:

    Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, a charmer, a ladies' man. He is also a Jew. On the first transport from Slovakia to Auschwitz in 1942, Lale immediately stands out to his fellow prisoners. In the camp, he is looked up to, looked out for, and put to work in the privileged position of Tätowierer- the tattooist- to mark his fellow prisoners, forever. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance.

    His life given new purpose, Lale does his best through the struggle and suffering to use his position for good.

    This story, full of beauty and hope, is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz- Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It is heart-wrenching, illuminating, and unforgettable.

To visit the author’s website go to:

Heather Morris - Author

To buy the novel go to:

the tattooist of auschwitz - Book

To add to Goodreads go to:

Yer Ports for Plunder List
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Loved this book!!  I read a lot in this genre and I am always looking for another angle and another view.  Terrifically written.  Wonderful and believable characters.
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When Lale (Ludwig) Eisenberg volunteered to work for the Germans so his family would be safe, he had no idea what it would entail. He soon found out!

This is the story of a man who did all he could to survive. His arrival in Auschwitz on 23rd April 1942 and then Birkenau was one of shock – his determination to leave alive would see him through the darkest and most tragic of days. Days when he lost friends through the brutality of the Germans; days when he managed a small kindness, like pass over a crust of bread to someone else who was starving. 

Lale’s job as the Tattooist (Tätowierer) of Auschwitz was one which gave him relative freedom – he gave others hope. When he held the hand of a young woman to etch the number on her arm, he was taken by her immediately. When he found out her name - Gita – he was determined to help her in any way he could. Lale and Gita met whenever they could and gradually love formed between them.

Three years of Lale and Gita’s lives were stolen – three years where the horrors were unimaginable…

Based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov who settled in Australia on 29th July 1949, happily raising a son, Gary, The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Aussie author Heather Morris is a heartbreaking, tragic yet uplifting story of the Holocaust and the atrocities that surrounded it – and those who survived. Two Jews from Slovakia who thought no more of being Jewish than the Parisiennes did of being French. It was what it was. Lale’s motto was always “Save the one, save the world” and he lived by it. An outstanding rendition of a terribly dark time in our history, it’s a time that should never be forgotten.

The Author’s Note, the Afterword and Additional Information, along with the exceptional photos of Lale and Gita at the end of the book, add to it and complete the journey. The author has done an exceptional job and her time with Lale as he told his story, shows that. Highly recommended.

With thanks to Bonnier Publishing via NetGalley for my digital ARC to read and review.
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I found this book very tough and the whole of it just wasn't to my liking.
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Based on a true story, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is an extraordinary story about Lale, a remarkable man who lived through one of the most atrocious times in history. It is also the story of an enduring love that blossomed and endured between two people caught up in the nightmarish reality of the concentration camps. The story is told with great compassion and, in spite of the brutal and heart wrenching detail, is an uplifting testament to the strength of the will to live and the resilience of the human spirit. Highly recommended. Thanks to Bonnier Publishing Australia, Echo and NetGalley for the ARC.
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Against all odds...

The story of two extraordinary people, Lale and Gita survive the horrors of Auschwitz and find solace in each other. The book is based on their true story.

Lale has the job of tattooist and must tattoo numbers on the arms of countless men, women and children. One day he tattooed #34902 on the arm and Gita. He recalled this day as the day "he tattooed her number on her left arm, she tattooed her number on his heart." 

An incredible and memorable story that shows the strong will of human survival and the risks that so many took to save not only their own lives, but those of others. The story follows their years together at Auschwitz and beyond the war. The writing was straight forward without a lot of depth into the characters emotions, yet as a reader, it stirred up all my feelings of intense sadness, fear and shock of what they endured.
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It's definitely hard giving a book about the Holocaust less than 5 stars, but there are some writers who have turned out incredibly moving and heart-wrenching books. For me, this book fell flat. Although the atrocities are appropriately depicted, there are some writing issues - lots of fragments, dialogue when it isn't needed, etc. Because this was originally written as a script, there are still lots of sentences that sound like stage directions (SS guard enters the room). I appreciate that this story was based on a real-life man's experience, but I wished it had been written with more finesse.
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The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also based on a firsthand account, but unlike The Taster, there is no doubt that Lale's story has no embellishments. It may be a novel, but it is nonfiction in the guise of fiction. This is an unusual narrative choice, but it makes Lale's story easier to stomach. Anyone who entered the gates of Auschwitz in 1942 and survived the entire war and post-war chaos has lived through hell and has the stories to match. By filtering these stories through the medium of fiction, it softens the harsh edges of the truth and makes it more palatable.

Whereas desperation tinges Magda's story, especially as the war draws to a close, hope and love are the defining themes of Lale's story. This is a major distinction between the two novels and is as much a result of the different situations in which each of the two main characters existed as it is to their personalities. Magda was merely an observer, letting history happen around her, but Lale was an active participant in everything that happened to him. From the opening paragraph, we know that survival was Lale's sole goal for whatever the Germans had in store for him. We see this in his manipulation of situations in his favor, no matter how it made him look to his fellow prisoners.

Moreover, he knew that in order to survive maintaining hope was essential, and we see him not only doing so for himself but finding reasons to help others remain hopeful. In addition, love literally changed his life. In a testament to the power to love, meeting his future wife shortly upon his arrival gave him the drive and reason to live, and the dream of marrying Gita as a free person allowed him to remain hopeful through the worst of what mankind can instill on others. In many ways, Lale's story is as much of a love story as it is a personal observation of the horrors of war.

If The Taster is akin to a carousel ride, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is the most death-defying roller coaster. The former is entertaining, mild, and the type of story that allows you to remain an emotionless observer. The latter, though, is an emotional punch in the gut that demands you not only pay attention but become emotionally involved. Even with the filter smoothing the rough edges of horror, Lale's story contains harsh realities that remain all the more disgusting because of their truth. For all of that, the layer of hope and his profound sense of love for Gita and for his fellow prisoners reminds you of the beauty of humanity and provides a fantastic juxtaposition for everything he experienced.
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Perfect 5 stars for the The Tattooist of Auschwitz! This book follows the true story of Slovakians Lale and Gita who experienced spending several years in the Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust period. Lale was a linguist; a Jew; prisoner 34902; and was a Tetovierer (tattooist in German) in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Birkenau, Poland. 

I'm always fascinated on this darkest period of the history, hence I read books that contains the said theme whenever I have the chance. Reading another memoir of one of the survivors made me envisioned what happened to the prisoners of Nazi Germany. However, Lale and Gita were very lucky to survived and after the liberation, they had a better life when they migrated to the land down under.

If you are like me who are into reading memoir and anything about the Holocaust, you should try to read The Tattoist of Auschwitz because I'm certain that you will also like it.
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