The Tattooist of Auschwitz Summary & Study Guide

Heather Morris
This Study Guide consists of approximately 38 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
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The Tattooist of Auschwitz Summary & Study Guide Description

The Tattooist of Auschwitz Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Morris, Heather. The Tattooist of Auschwitz. New York: Harper, 2018.

Heather Morris’s novel opens in the Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII, as a young man named Lale tattoos the number 34902 onto the arm of a young women. As their eyes meet, he is instantly smitten. The story then recedes in time to show Lale’s journey to this point—how he arrived at Auschwitz Two-Birkenau in April 1942 along with countless other terrified young Slovakian Jewish men, how he suffered from Typhus fever and only survived because of the kindness of his bunkmates, and how he became an apprentice to Pepan, the tattooist responsible for inscribing unique identification numbers into the skin of each new prisoner. By July, Lale and Pepan have tattooed the arms of countless new prisoners and Lale has vowed that he will resist the Nazis by surviving the camp. At this point, the novel has come full circle and the scene described in the prologue is repeated again word for word; Lale tattoos prisoner 34902 and falls in love with her at first sight.

After Pepan mysteriously disappears, Lale is promoted to head Tätowierer and receives privileges such as better lodgings and extra rations, which he kindly distributes to fellow prisoners. Over time, Lale develops a complicated sort of friendship with Baretski, the young guard that keeps watch over him (and has the authority to end his life at any moment). He is crude and violent, yet he is humanized by being characterized as uneducated and by being given a sympathetic backstory. With the help of Baretski, Lale writes to the beautiful young prisoner he encountered, and they finally meet. He learns that her name is Gita, but she refuses to tell him her surname or her hometown; she has lost hope for her future and thinks of herself only as prisoner 34902 of Birkenau. Their relationship quickly evolves into a passionate love affair and Lale encourages Gita to believe in their future together; their love gives them the motivation that they need to survive, and they become integral to each other’s happiness. They watch over one another, and offer each other the support, help, and comfort that each of them needs.

Industrious and bold, Lale creates a network of smugglers within Auschwitz: the girls that sort through the prisoners’ confiscated goods bring him jewels, he uses these jewels to pay village laborers that sneak in food and medicine for him, which he in turn uses as currency for bribery and distributes among those in need. The working and living conditions at Auschwitz are horrendous and Lale is stupefied by the way that human beings are treated at the hands of the SS that oversee the concentration and extermination camp. The prisoners are worked like slaves building new blocks and crematorium and Lale witnesses the extermination of countless innocent lives within the camp’s walls.

A large group of Romany people are brought to the camp and they are lodged in Lale’s block. This becomes known as the “Gypsy” camp and Lale is fascinated by their nomadic lifestyle and becomes an honorary member of this close-knit community. They begin to feel like an extended family to him. Meanwhile, Lale becomes acquainted with the sickeningly cruel Doctor Mengele, who inspects each prisoner to determine their fate, selecting who will be put to work, who will be useful for human experimentation, and who should be extinguished right away.

When the SS guards discover Lale has been hoarding smuggled jewels and food under his mattress he is tossed into an interrogation cell, beaten, and imprisoned. Due to the connections he has made and the kindness he has shown to others he manages to escape execution, and after a stint working as a laborer he secures his old job again and resumes his previous routine. He is devastated when he discovers that the Gypsy camp has been emptied and that the men, women, and children he had come to consider family have all been murdered.

Finally, after two and a half years of excruciating life at Birkenau, witnessing the worst of humanity, rumors of an uprising circulate and when news reaches the camp of the advancing Russian army the SS officers hurry to destroy their records and transfer the prisoners. Gita is marched out of the gates with thousands of other female prisoners and just on time shouts back to Lale that her full name is Gita Furman and that she loves him. She escapes from the guards, finds refuge in a nearby village, and eventually makes her way to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, where she joins other camp survivors. Meanwhile, Lale finds himself on a train on its way to another labor camp. He escapes through the forest and a freezing river, only to be captured by Russian soldiers and forced to work for them as their pimp. After several weeks he is able to gain their trust and uses this as an opportunity to escape. He makes his way to Bratislava. Time stands still as Gita and Lale cross paths on the street and recognize each other. The story closes as Lale asks Gita to marry him and they walk away, one young couple among many in a war-ravaged city.

After the story closes, the author’s voice takes over the narrative voice and she provides a historical note that gives the readers an overview of the lives of Lale and Gita, two real Holocaust survivors that this fictional account is based on. After the war, they married, had a child named Gary, and immigrated to Melbourne. To conclude, an afterword written by Gary himself provides a moving first-hand testament to the love he witnessed between his parents growing up.

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