The Tattooist of Auschwitz: History Told Through Lies

source: Goodreads

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris was recommended to me by a friend. The reason being is I have been studying the Holocaust for many years. I purchased the book and began reading straight away. The read was easy, I’ll give it that. But the story was not interesting and soon it began to feel a bit contrived.

source: Goodreads


In 1942 Ludwig “Lale” Eisenberg is a prisoner in Auschwitz. Soon Lale is selected to be an assistant to the current tattooist there. When that tattooist is no longer around, we can only assume he was killed for this is Auschwitz after all, Lale becomes the new tattooist. Lale is not sure he can do the job for he’s never tattooed anyone before, and these are fellow prisoners who are suffering like him, that he has to tattoo. The instrument to be used is dull and probably dirty since it’s never cleaned. The hand of Lale is not steady, understandably, and the prisoners are scared. Lale has to keep the prisoners from crying or screaming in pain for they will have sealed their fate and either shot there on the spot or sent to the gas chamber.


To show how memorable this book is, I don’t even remember how Lale met Grita. I think she was one of the people he had to tattoo. From the moment he laid his adult eyes, he was 26 at the time, on this sixteen-year-old, he was smitten. That’s if my math is right on the age of Grita when she arrived at Auschwitz. Soon Lale was on a mission to find this unnamed person again, and he did and her learned her name. It wasn’t long before those two were sneaking around to meet each other. A lot of meetings were arranged through Grita’s friends she met in the women’s barracks.


In all the concentration camps there were Gapos. These were fellow prisoners the Commandant of the camps put in charge of other prisoners. The Gapos were just as brutal, if not more, than the Nazi guards themselves. The barrack Grita was assigned always had a Gapo guarding the place, which caused an issue for Lale when he wanted to spend time with Grita alone. But Lale was able to find a solution.

Lale learned the construction of additional buildings were being done by locals in town, non-prisoners. Through his meeting with one of the workers and the worker’s son, on the initiation of Lale, he was able to trade chocolate for jewelry. The chocolate came from the local workers he met. And the jewelry? Well, they came from Canada. Canada was a section of the camp where prisoner’s belonging were sent to be sorted in different piles. Jewelry in one pile, shoes in another, clothing in another and so forth. Grita had a job working in Canada and she was able to steal, yes, I said steal, jewelry, give it to Lale, who in turn gave it to the workers in exchange for chocolate. The chocolate was used to bribe the Gapo who guarded the women’s barrack that Grita stayed in.


There were prisoners at Auschwitz who were able to acquire better living conditions and definitely, better food. The first being the Sonderkommandos.

Sonderkommandos (German: [ˈzɔndɐkɔˌmando], special unit) were work units made up of German Nazi death camp prisoners. They were composed of prisoners, usually Jews, who were forced, on the threat of their own deaths, to aid with the disposal of gas chamber victims during the Holocaust.

The others were the tattooists. They too, like the Sonderkommandos, had their own rooms, a better bed, and better food. Both groups needed to stay healthy and fit to complete their jobs from sunup to sundown, literally, and at times, way into the night. But sometimes you have to sacrifice others to save yourself because someone has to make it through this hell to bear witness.


I wasn’t believing much of what I read and was believing even less the more I read. But what turned me off more than feeling like someone was looking me square in my eyes and telling a bald-faced lie was these two passages.  Now, I’m not sure if this allowed, but they are screenshots and not me rewriting the words:

taken from chapter 15
taken from chapter 21

I, personally, found these two examples to dumb down the book a great deal, for two reasons. 1. these people have not bathed in months nor brushed their teeth. 2, the way it’s written makes me wonder what was going through the author’s mind. Was she trying to appeal to those that read books whose description of people having coitus (coitus – a nod to Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory) is written like this?

This would be fine if this was a romance novel. And although she wants to pawn the book off as a love story, she did a poor job of it.

I know prisoners in these camps snuck around a lot to have private meetings, but most of those meetings were used to formulate a plan to escape or share information heard throughout the camp. Of all the Holocaust books I’ve read, none incorporated such descriptions of their sexual encounters as she did in hers.  Being in a camp as brutal as Auschwitz the last thing I would be thinking about is sex. My first thought is surviving each and every day, followed by trying to escape. I personally don’t think what she wrote actually happened which leads me to the second reason I so disliked this book like no other: false information.


The author claims (yeah, I can’t even write her name) the story is true. If I remember correctly she got the information from Lale himself.

This beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov—an unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity. (source:

This is more of an illuminating tale of BS. As someone who never suffered through the Holocaust and no matter how many books I read, movies I watch or interview with survivors I do, I’ll never be able to image the suffering had by those who lived through it. But because of the books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen and interviews I’ve done, I had a feeling a lot of what I read was not the truth. Although this book is labeled as ‘historical fiction’, the author claims to have, as already mentioned, got the information from Lale himself. if I were to write a book based on an interview I did with someone, I would not pawn it off as the truth. I would do as Aviva Gat did with her novel My Family’s Survival, another Holocaust based book, by stating:

source: an expert from My Family’s Survival by Aviva Gat

Aviva makes it very clear that parts of the book are fictionalized because all the facts weren’t there. With this disclaimer being presented to us, we will go into the book not expecting complete truth to be told. I don’t remember reading the same disclaimer from the author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz.


Instead of breaking down everything that’s false I found an article that did that already, and better than I ever could. Therefore, I’m going to end this post with a few links about the validity of the story of Lale and events that took place in Auschwitz as the author tells it:

The Guardian

The Auschwitz Memorial

I have never read a book that pissed me off more than this one because it’s on a subject I hold near and dear to my heart. So much so, I got a tattoo honoring those who lived and died during the Holocaust, hence the red teardrop.

Zachar – Hebrew for Remembrance

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