Lale Sokolov is a Slovak Jew, being transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp by the Nazis. World War II is raging, and Jews all over Europe are paying the price. Lale is one of many Jews being loaded onto a cattle car to be transported like animals to the camp. Upon arriving, the prisoners have their heads shaven, and their clothes and belongings taken and replaced with a Russian soldier's uniform. They also have a number tattooed on their left arm.
Lale's number is 32407.
German officials discover that Lale can speak many different languages -- German, Yiddish, Russian, and more. This skill earns Lale a job as the Tätowierer (the person who tattoos the other prisoners), because he can communicate easily with prisoners of multiple backgrounds.
At first, Lale is an assistant to the previous Tätowierer, Pepan. Later, when Pepan is taken away, Lale becomes the Tätowierer, eventually taking on his own assistant. One day, Lale is tasked with the job of tattooing a large group of young women who have just arrived. He has trained himself to not look up while working, because looking up at the people's faces just makes his job harder. He does not want to see the faces of the people he is marking. With one person, however, he can't help but look up. This young woman's name is Gita, and Lale can't help but fall in love with her on sight. At the very moment he looks into her eyes, he promises himself that they will survive the camps, get married, and be free together.
Gita's number is 34902.
For the next two years, Lale does whatever he can to keep himself and Gita alive; he smuggles food, medicine, and even makes off with jewels and currency from the coats of newly arrived prisoners (which he can exchange for valuable and important supplies). He takes care of Gita, and uses his special privileges and extra rations given to him as Tätowierer to help as many of his fellow prisoners as possible. All the while, he marks his own people. and he holds onto his hope that he and Gita will survive.
Lale and Gita were real people. Their story is a love story, wrapped inside a horror story. They witnessed many acts of pure hatred and violence. And yet, when Lale met Gita, despite all the horrors that surrounded them, in his own words: "I tattooed her number on her left hand, and she tattooed her number on my heart."
This book is good for history lovers, but I would not recommend this book for anyone under 12 years old. In addition to talking about the war, it is a very violent book, and contains discussion of both mass murder and rape.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a sentimental true story of love and hope trying to survive in a world of hate.
Daddy's afterthoughts: At B&N, Goodreads, Waterstones, and Amazon, this book consistently racks up extremely high reviews, averaging well over 4 stars out of 5 on all four sites. I will be stunned if this is not made into a movie within 2 years. This book is gripping and, I know it is a cliche, but you will not want to put it down.
As Julia said, it is a true story, related to author Heather Morris by Lale Sokolov himself. Lale died in 2006. If you want to find out what happened to Gita, you'll have to read the book.
I can sum up everything I have to say about this devastating book in three lines from the book that effectively capture the swirl of emotions this book generates:
"I'm just a number. You should know that. You gave it to me."
"Yes, but that's just in here. Who are you outside of here?"
"Outside doesn't exist anymore. There's only here."