August 17, 2020

On My Bookshelf: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The basic plot from Amazon: In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov's experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.
Despite initial struggles with the writing style and feelings of  disconnect from the main character, The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is the story of Lale’s life at camps, a series of amazing coincidences that will draw you in as a reader. The novel is based on the real life experiences of the man who served as a tattooist at Auschwitz. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

Why I liked it: The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on a true story, but the book is written in third person, and the main character seems distant and detached. I couldn't decide if that was due to the point of view used, the author's writing style or a combination of both. There were issues I had with the book that I could more definitely attribute to the author, such as the insertion of scenes from Lale’s past, which seemed disconnected from the central plot line and abrupt interruptions to present action. Despite my initial struggle with the writing style and feeling disconnected from the main character, the story of Lale’s life at camps is a series of amazing coincidences that will draw you in as a reader.

Classroom application: The book or parts of it could be used in a unit on the Holocaust, whether in a history class or an English Language Arts class. Since the book is based on a true story, but not nonfiction, I would balance it with a memoir or other primary sources.

For students who are interested in historical fiction set during WWII and the Holocaust, you can find additional recommendations here and here. The titles listed below are additional recommendations, but I have not personally them.

Young Adult Recommendations
The Librarian of Auschwitz
Night Trilogy
Someone Named Eva
Don't Tell the Nazis
The Cage

Dancing with the Enemy
The Paris Architect
Man’s Search for Meaning

The Storyteller
The Winter Guest
Those Who Save Us
The Lilac Girls
Auschwitz Lullaby
The German Midwife
Surviving the Angel of Death
Beneath the Scarlet Sky
Cilka’s Journey (follow up to The Tattooist of Auschwitz)
The Lost Wife

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Tattooist of Auschwitz for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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