In 1942, a man called Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners the Nazi had marked for survival. His job was simple, yet unforgettable: scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would later become recognized as one of the most potent and terrifying symbols of the Holocaust.
As the Tetovier (tattooist), it meant he was “a step further away from death than the other prisoners”. Lale received a number of benefits such as a single room, extra rations, and free time when his work had been completed.
For the survivors, the numbers they wore printed on their skin were an indelible reminder of the horrors they had lived in the Nazi concentration camps. But for a man called Lale Sokolov, dubbed the “Auschwitz tattooist”, one mark changed his life forever.
Waiting in line to be tattooed, scared, afraid, shaking, was a young girl: Gita.
For Lale—it was love at first sight.
Soon, he was determined not only to survive himself but to ensure that the girl he had fallen in love with instantly, Gita, did so too.
This is how one of the most life-affirming, courageous, unforgettable and human stories of the Holocaust begins: the love story of the tattooist of Auschwitz, written by Heather Morris, who worked for 3 years with the protagonist to rebuild their past. The incredible story of survival and romance born in the midst of the horror of the Holocaust was revealed in the book “The tattooist of Auschwitz“.
It’s a story of love and hope in the middle of terror.
Lale Sokolov tattooed the arm of Gita Fuhrmannova in 1942 while tattooing an all-female group of new arrivals.
“I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.”
Shortly after having tattooed the number 34902 on her body, and thanks to the help of a guard Lale and Gita began exchanging letters. He had used his relatively privileged position to keep her alive by sending her extra food and messages through his personal guard, and having her “moved to a better workstation”.
Lale, a diminutive of Ludwig—his real name—arrived in Auschwitz at the age of 26.
He was born in Slovakia and was of a Jewish family. In the countryside, he learned the trade of a Frenchman named Pepan, and thanks to his knowledge of different languages, he was chosen by the Nazis as the successor of the old tattoo artist.
Between 1941 and 1943 he marked all the prisoners that were selected for survival, and thanks to this new position, he managed to escape death.
In 1945, Gita was able to leave the camp before the arrival of the Russians. Shortly after, Sokolov did the same.
That same year they were reunited and eventually got married.
After a while, they settled in Australia, where they had a son in 1961.
For years, Sokolov kept the secret of his past for fear of being seen as a collaborator of the Nazis.
It was only after his wife’s death that he was encouraged to tell his whole story.
The book has been described as extraordinary – moving, confronting and uplifting.
Lale Sokolov died in 2006 and is survived by his son.