The tattooist, by Heather Morris, is a memoir of Lale Eisenberg during the time he spent in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The tale of the life of Lale Eisenberg is a bone chilling one. Set in the back drop of the rising Nazism in the world, his is a story that grows along with the rapid growth of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Lale is a Jew and as with most Jews of the period, both Lale and the book’s journey starts in an over cramped train bogie that transports folks from their lives in the cities to directly hell that awaits them. It is here , where we get the first look on Lale’s perspective towards life. Amidst the uncertainty, he’s a wonderful beacon of hope and optimism. Lale’s enthusiasm for hope keeps him going. His optimism keeps the folks around him going too. It is this hope that carries the grim tale over its shoulders. It’s the type of hope that gets stamped upon, squashed, beaten, bruised and still manages to endure, survive and eventually reward.
Life in the camp is a billion miles away from anything humanitarianly sane and sensible. As Lale meets the challenges, the readers are exposed to a reality that shocks. With a little touch of lady luck, and the unrelenting charm of Lale’s determination to survive, he finds himself appointed as the tattooist of the camp. Lale’s job is to tattoo numbers on the forearms of all those poor souls that walk through the doors of the camp. Lale’s attitude triumphs and he’s soon fondly known and addressed as the Tattooweirer (Tattooist).
Lale’s work brings him to meet Gita. It’s love at first tattoo. The bond that Lale and Gita share is possibly the one of the very few innocent and endearing acts of humanity in the camp. The fact that the two harbour love in their hearts, brave to hope a life beyond the walls of the camp, dream of a full life someday is the most supreme acts of subtle rebellion against their circumstance. This love blossoms in a place where hate and apathy blooms. The rest of the tale is about the time Lale and Gita spend in the camp, their eventual escape into the real world, their unrelenting love for each other and the love that finally brings them together and takes them to their promised land of happily ever after. The drama is gripping and the tale engages the readers , one page at a time. As the characters explore the camp, they and us, the readers, are exposed to the horrors that the camp is quite capable of.
Lale and Gita’s tale is all about humanity at its finest best. In the face of horror, the human spirit has the capacity to refuse defeat and refrain from succumbing into the depths of existential depression. Love keeps the two characters from giving up on their life and their dreams. The tale is not about just Lale and Gita. The horror of the realities of the camp spans across millions of others who endure similar harsh challenges. The secondary characters add charm and warmth to the tale. There are acts of selflessness that touch you and remind you of how wonderful it is to remain human. There is greed and the darks of the human nature. Even in the deepest pit of hell, the vibrancy of human characters shines bright , shines dark and shines across the broad spectrum of what humans are capable of.
The tale also speaks of the dynamics between the prisoners of the camp and the Germans who guard them. During the peak of the Nazi regime, not everybody was pure evil. We get to see the shades of grey where evil manifested in varying degrees. Lale meets guards who are committed to the ideologies, mind body and soul. He meets blokes who go with the flow of things and do what others do. While I couldn’t get a glimpse of any conflict that ran rampant in the minds of the Germans, we do get to read a human side in even them. A side that is bound by the realities of the era but at the same time, a touch of compassion, humanity, if you may , that exists in just sufficient quantities that qualifies evil men as still humans and not just demons.
We are introduced to the Magic doctor Mengele. His sheer presence in the text runs chill down the spine. The portrayal feels real enough. The character does haunt, even after the passage of many a decades since then. He is the very embodiment of a body that is void of any soul. There probably isn’t a single cell, a fragment of a fabric of humanity in the Doctor. Sinister evil exudes from him.
What I enjoyed the most about the book is the way the characters grow in time. Imprisoned in camp, Lale’s compassion for life is a beautiful example of what one can aspire for in life. The toll the place takes on his character is a heart wrenching one. As bonds are forged and readers get accustomed to a life, albeit a miserable life, in the camp, we are reminded of the short shelf life in the camp. People come and people go. The camp is a constant reminder of how close death loiters in the forsaken place.
All said and done, the version of the book that I carried had pictures of Lale and Gita and other folks. Looking at them, smiling, celebrating life together, it felt wonderful to just read their tale and know a bit of the things that this couple has endured. Theirs is the kind of love that I believe keeps the world going. In an age where broken marriages and hearts are a common sight, Lale and Gita’s wonderful bond is a shining example of what the word stands to represent.
I don’t think the tattooist is a very serious, very grim view of the life in the camp. It’s a retelling of a life endured and it’s narrated in a way that stirs the heart and makes us feel warm and cosy. I believe there are grimmer tales out there and frankly, I don’t have the appetite to expose myself to the struggles and eventual triumph of the human spirit.
Tattooist is a much lighter toned book and that’s perfectly alright. Give it a shot. You’d probably wont feel disappointed.