Author(s): Heather Morris
I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.
In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival - scratching numbers into his fellow victims' arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. 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 was determined not only to survive himself, but to ensure this woman, Gita, did too.
So begins one of the most life-affirming, courageous, unforgettable and human stories of the Holocaust: the love story of the tattooist of Auschwitz.
This edition is edited and updated for younger readers, and also contains extra materials, including classroom discussion points, additional photos, maps and documents and other educational resources.
Lale Sokolov was a man with nine lives. Charming, smart and conversant in six languages, he was transported with thousands of other Slovakian Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1942. He was "fortunate" enough to be assigned the job of Tätowierer, which involved tattooing the number given to each prisoner on their arm as they entered the camp. But "fortunate" is a catch-22 description of his predicament. If Lale had said no, he would have been shot and the job would just have gone to another prisoner.
Lale's story only became public knowledge in 2018, 73 years after the end of World War 2 and 15 years after he entrusted Heather Morris to tell it. He had carried the burden of guilt all that time, worried that he would be regarded as a Nazi collaborator if people knew the truth. It was the death in 2003 of his beloved Gita, whom he fell in love with when he tattooed the number 4562 on her arm, that convinced him it was time to tell their remarkable story.
Lale managed to use his position and his natural entrepreneurial flair to survive the atrocious conditions. As Tätowierer, he was given extra rations which he shared with the inmates of his old Block 7. With a little more freedom to move around, he organised Gita and her friends to hide some of the jewellery they sorted from the arrivals' luggage and bought food from the Polish workers who came in each day to build the crematoria, distributing the rations to their fellow prisoners. He miraculously survived weeks of torture after valuable gems were discovered under his mattress, only because he had saved the life of his torturer months earlier.
Morris has written Lale's and Gita's story as fiction based on real events so that she could portray their emotions and thoughts. This edition has been edited for young adults, cutting out some of the detail from the original book, but it doesn't dilute the horror of the Nazis' systematic determination to rid Europe of the Jews. It's harrowing reading and definitely more suited to age 13+, but it's also a beautiful and incredibly moving love story that focuses on one man's determination to stay alive.
Morris includes some classroom or book group discussion questions and it would be an excellent book to study as it poses the ethical dilemma of what you would do in a similar situation. Also included are photos of Lale and Gita, an afterword from their son Gary, maps, records and a timeline of Holocaust events.
Born in New Zealand, Heather Morris lives and works in Melbourne. In 2003, she met Lale Sokolov, a meeting that changed both their lives. As their friendship grew, he entrusted her with the task of telling the world the innermost details of his life during the Holocaust.