The Tattooist of Auschwitz Summary

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a 2018 novel by Heather Morris about a Slovakian Jewish man named Lale who spends several years interned at the Auschwitz death camp during World War II.

  • Lale resolves to leave the camp alive after witnessing the atrocities committed therein.
  • Lale is fortunate to be hires as the camp tattooist. He begins trading with civilian contractors to bring goods into the camp.
  • Lale falls in love with a young woman named Gita. When she falls ill, he acquires medicine to save her life.
  • After Russians storm the camp, Lale and Gita are separated. They later reunite back in Slovakia.

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Last Updated on June 10, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1224

Lale is a twenty-five-year-old Slovakian Jewish man on a German transport in Poland during the Second World War. He does not know where he is headed, only that he is crowded into a train with many other anxious, hungry, and exhausted Jewish men. Eventually, the train arrives at the Nazi work camp of Auschwitz. Forced into the camp at gunpoint by SS officers, all the men are tattooed with five-digit numbers, stripped, and sent to crowded blocks for the night. Lale begins to realize just how dire his circumstances are. In the night, he awakes and goes outside to use the latrine, where he sees some SS officers shoot and kill three men. Witnessing this, Lale vows to leave the camp alive.

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In his next few days at Auschwitz, Lale learns that in order to survive, he must keep his head down and find ways to become friendly with the SS officers and his block’s kapo. He hopes that in doing so he is not betraying his people. Chatting with some of the Russian workers, Lale learns that they are in the process of building a concentration camp. One day, Lale watches as an entire bus of men is gassed to death. Shortly thereafter, Lale falls sick with typhus. Rescued from the “death cart” by a friend from the train, Lale is nursed back to health by the men in his block and the tattooist of the camp, Pepan. Pepan was a French academic before his imprisonment at Auschwitz, and he offers Lale a job as his assistant tattooist. Lale is granted some political protection by his new status as camp tattooist.

During his daily tattooing of new transports, Lale makes eye contact with the woman he is tattooing, and he is struck by her beautiful eyes. Before they have the chance to speak to each other, she is moved along the line. A few days later, Pepan is gone, and Lale is assigned the position of tattooist. He is given his own block and more generous rations. Wanting to pay forward Pepan’s generosity, Lale asks for an assistant tattooist, knowing that he can extend his circle of protection to another prisoner. He is assigned a man from a new transport named Leon. The two men are overseen by an SS officer named Baretski. Lale and Baretski have an uneasy friendship, and Baretski agrees to help Lale contact the girl he saw during processing.

After passing notes back and forth, Lale meets up with Gita, the woman he was so taken by. They speak briefly and agree to meet up again. One day, Lale meets Yuri and Victor, two contracted workers from town who are building a crematorium. Lale establishes a trade agreement with the father and son: he will trade jewelry and money that has been confiscated from prisoners in exchange for food and other necessities from the outside world. (The jewelry and money comes from the “Canada,” a storage facility where women prisoners work with Lale to smuggle goods out.) When Gita gets sick, Lale is able to acquire penicillin for her through Yuri and Victor. As she gets better, Lale secures her a job working in the administration building, where her quality of life in the camp is improved.

A transport of Romany Gypsies arrive at the camp, and Lale befriends them. Cilka, a beautiful girl who works in the administration office with...

(The entire section contains 1224 words.)

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