I was recently lent a 3 part series of books by Heather Morris, whose books I have never read before. This dear friend, who was kind enough to share the joy of these books with me, promised they are gripping, profound and an eye opener. She was correct. I read the first book in just over 2 days, as I could not believe what I was reading.
The books I will be reviewing over the next few months are: The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Cilka’s Journey and Three Sisters. However, let’s focus on the first of the books, which is based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, who was taken prisoner during the Holocaust in 1942. As the author explains, this is not a 100% factual book, but tells the story as Heather heard it first-hand from Lale when she was working in a public hospital during 2003, when they met.
Who could fathom that there could be positive tales of upliftment and encouragement during such a sombre, traumatic time where millions of people were displaced, treated in a way that no living creature on God’s earth should be treated, and others callously killed for pleasure and discarded like trash? I hope that you have not so far been put off reading the book, as the stories of remarkable characters like Lale, Cilka, Gita and many more have made me look at myself and the people around me a little closer, and given me a deeper understanding of the strength of a human being if you decide you are a survivor.
Lale is given a chance of survival when the Tattooist at Auschwitz, Pepan, takes a liking to him and insists that, given the number of people being brought into the camps, he cannot keep up the pace at which he is expected to tattoo the new, petrified prisoners. Men, women, children, old, healthy and ill. This is where Lale, who becomes the tattooist’s assistant, locks eyes with a frightened girl he has to label number 562. Just a number with beautiful eyes and an undeniable pull on his heart. He would later gamble with his life by stealing, selling jewellery for medicine to save this girl’s life. She is THE one! He later gets to know Gita and finds a way to secure her a “safer” place to work than in the fields and clothes factory. She becomes an administrator, filing the details of all prisoners and thereby making friends with Cilka. Unfortunately for Cilka, a high-ranking official takes a liking to her and she becomes his entertainment when he is bored, drunk or just in a foul mood.
These friends form a bond which can never be broken, their lives telling us one of the most courageous and unforgettable stories of the Holocaust. It is a read that I will never forget! Needless to say, I was hardly done with this book when I immediately picked up Cilka’s Journey, but more of that in the next Beloved Magazine.
What stands out for me about Heather Morris, is that her books, “set the scene” before you begin reading, to settle your mind into a time and place you never imagined you would go. The clarity with which she creates each character endears you to them and makes you feel like you are there in those moments. Then as you end the amazing story, she supplies you with factual information about the main character. In this case, Ludwig Eisenberg (Lale), born 1916 and imprisoned at Auschwitz in April 1942. Known to most only as number 32407. These few pages draw you in even further and then just when you think it is over, Lale’s son, Gary Sokolov, provides you with a few tales of happiness and an insight into Lale and Gita’s lives after the Holocaust. A happy family. Their strength, courage, endurance and refusal to give up hope combine to forge a beautiful ending from a horrific beginning.
I cannot encourage you enough to read this book. Yes, it is sad, shocking and infuriating, but it brings hope. And what are we without hope?