The Tattooist of Auschwitz – An Incredible Tale of Survival

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An incredible tale of survival. That’s my first and longest impression after finishing the book The Tattooist of Auschwitz. It was written in a simple manner, with little fanfare and straightforward story telling style of sort, yet it was powerful enough to keep me hooked from the beginning to the end.

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The book told the story of Lale, a Jewish young man from Slovakia, who was transported to and imprisoned in Auschwitz and Birkenau, and witnessed the unfold of one of the most tragic events in human’s history. The story happened in Auschwitz and Birkenau, the most brutal concentration camp that the Nazis set up in Poland to hold and torture their enemies, most of whom were actually innocent Jews, being sent there to suffer and die for no apparent crime but their religion. The story was grim and dark, with death lurking on every page and the feeling of living on the edge for all who were placed inside the camp.

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In spite of truthful, sometimes even brutal, portrayal of death, the story was also one of hope and survival. Lale never gave up hope, his hope of freedom, his hope of life outside the camp. He continued pressing on, even when there seemed to be no more hope, no more chance of survival. He never gave up. Nothing could struck him down. Not the disease. Not the guards. Not even the almost certain fate when he was sent to the block with the black wall. And what made his efforts even more outstanding was that he not only pressed on for himself, he also tried to make life a little better for as many people around him as he could, bringing them some bright sparks in the darkness of the imprisoned life, so that even though their lives might be extinguished the very next moment, at least they could feel some warmth of love and some memory of their previous lives that had been robbed from them. That’s what made his story worth telling and his efforts all the more incredible.

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Another amazing aspect of Lale’s story was that love could blossom even in the most dire place of all. In a place where lives could be stopped at any moment, where death happened at every corner, most of the time for no reason, and people woke up without knowing if they would see the sunrise or sunset ever again, it was difficult to imagine a love story could be started, maintained, nurtured, protected and even survived and continued outside the camp. And it was a beautiful love story nonetheless, against all odds and all the brutality of the war. As I continued turning the pages, I kept wondering, whether Lale and Gita would survive if they had not fallen in love. Maybe, or maybe not. Maybe Lale would. He had a strong, burning desire, to get out of the camp alive and go back home. But maybe not for Gita. If not for Lale and his cunning and smart manoeuvring, probably Gita would have perished. But it did not matter and it was not important. What mattered was that they both survive, and thrived outside the camp. The bonfire of love that they built kept them warm, and also warmed the hearts of those around them, as well as all the readers.

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It was a really very good book, on the same vein as The Book Thief, and another worthy contribution to the collection of truthful portrayal of a painful part of history. Lale might be lucky, as he had readily agreed, but nobody can deny that he was very capable, and therefore managed to capitalise on his luck and rid on it full steam to help himself and others. He touched so many lives in the camp, with simple but meaningful actions, like sharing with them some bread, some sausages or chocolates, or telling them stories. He faced death more than once, at some points he was so close he could see its breath brushing on his face, yet he climbed out of the pit and lived to fight another day. When compared with him and his situation, I suddenly feel that my daily troubles are simply nothing, and that my problems suddenly shrink so small, and I realise that life is beautiful and every moment I am still breathing is a small miracle that I should treasure and embrace fully.

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