May 5th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY HECS: hastening our demographic winter

EDITORIAL Liddell is the 'fly in the ointment' of the NEG

AFRICAN AFFAIRS African Continental Free Trade Area ... in the spirit of GATT

CANBERRA OBSERVED Bernardi foray looks to be fading out of view

ENVIRONMENT Is a prolonged freeze on the way for the earth?

MEDICINE NaProTechnology: an ethical alternative in reproductive health

MEDICAL ETHICS Grounds for objection: a declaration on freedom of conscience

OPINION What a republic would really mean for Australia

LAW AND FREEDOM 'Rule of law' does not support exemptions: a reply to Robin Speed

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Saudi Crown Prince challenges Wahhabists

HIGHER EDUCATION Undoing the dis-education of Millennials

GENDER POLITICS Why are patients being denied freedom of choice?

ASIAN HISTORY Jinmen: the forgotten crisis that brought the world to the brink


MUSIC Grammy salute to Elton John: Revealing revisit to the 1970s

CINEMA The Isle of Dogs: Man's best friend in exile

BOOK REVIEW Australia, we need to talk about China

BOOK REVIEW Novelised life a vivid drama of survival



NATIONAL AFFAIRS Committal hearing dismisses main charges against Cardinal Pell

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Novelised life a vivid drama of survival

News Weekly, May 5, 2018


by Heather Morris

Echo Publishing, Richmond
Paperback: 270 pages
Price: AUD$29.99

Reviewed by Michael E. Daniel

In 2003 screenwriter Heather Morris was introduced to Lale Sokolov, an elderly Jewish man, after being told that he may “have a story worth telling”.

The result is an extraordinary Holocaust survival story: that of Lale and his girlfriend Gita. Originally conceived of as a screenplay, Morris ultimately re-wrote it as a novel.

The novel is the product of extensive interviews Morris had with Sokolov, then an elderly widower, who insisted at their first meeting that she have no preconceptions. Morris meet with him three to four times over the next three years, and he gradually recounted his story. In doing so, he revealed his sense of guilt that he and Gita may have been viewed as having survived the Holocaust because they had collaborated with the Nazis.

As the title suggests, this novel is about the man who survived by tattooing the numbers onto prisoners on their arrival at the camp, particularly Jewish prisoners. Those familiar with the story of the Holocaust would recognise instantly that the tattooing of prisoners was an integral facet of their dehumanisation by the Nazis. After being tattooed, prisoners were only ever identified by their numbers, not their names.

Born Ludwig Eisenberg in Krom­pachy, Slovakia, in 1916, as a young man Lale was involved in the textile trade. He was transported to Auschwitz on April 13, 1942.

A few months earlier he had acquiesced to a demand that each Jewish family hand over a member to work for the Germans or be sent to a concentration camp in the mistaken belief that in doing so, his family would be spared. Ironically, his parents were to be transported to Auschwitz before him.

The novel begins with Lale being transported to Auschwitz.

Recruited by the tattooist Pepan to be his offsider, Sokolov soon replaces him as head tattooist after Pepan disappears without warning. By this stage, Lale has learnt not to ask too many questions. In a camp where the average lifespan of Jewish inmates is three months, Lale survives for three years.

His job affords him some protection from the brutality of the Nazi guards. He also establishes a rapport with Stefan Baretski, an SS guard, and this alliance also affords him some protection.

However, the other important key to his survival are the connections he establishes with the female prisoners involved in sorting through the possessions of those transported to Auschwitz. By obtaining jewellery items, he is able to exchange these for food for himself and other prisoners.

However, it is Gita who gives Lale the motivation to live. Attracted to her at first glance, Gita and Lale soon form an intimate friendship. They meet when­ever it is possible for them to do so, and Gita becomes one of the chief beneficiaries of Lale’s smuggling activities.

One turning point in the novel, though, is when Lale’s cache of jewellery is discovered, and he is sent to the infamous Block 11. Ironically, in an extraordinary twist of fate, Jakub, the prisoner assigned to torture him to extract information from him, aids his survival, and Lale is one of the few prisoners to emerge alive from this block. He soon regains his job as tattooist.

Told from Lale’s perspective, the novel format effectively engages readers as they are drawn into an understanding of Lale’s motivations. His reactions to the events he witnessed and experienced are vividly described. What emerges is a moving description of the power of human beings not only to survive unimaginable horrors but to cultivate and develop intimate friendships in such circumstances.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a “must-read”. It is one of the best books this reviewer has read in recent times, one that he found extremely difficult to put down.

Michael E. Daniel is a Melbourne-based writer.

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All you need to know about
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