Perhaps embellished a bit, but insightful the subject of story was concerned about being perceived as a collaborator. He survived because he could speak several languages; Slovakian, German, Russian, Polish, Hungarian that makes him useful and gives him some leverage. Lale was careful in what he said, but pushed limits. It could have been told as a true story, but sometimes fiction allows the author to paint a truer picture. Heather does provide some photos and some facts.
The story was originally written as a film script and I hope they are able to come up with something that would get wider distribution than a book. Apparently something is at the development stage and hopefully will work its way through the Covid 19 pandemic.
The story begins when Lale is given a chance to be the tattooist who is given a key task that allows him not only to survive, but also to gain some leverage. The Germans are noted for their efficiency and they do indeed keep track of their prisoners. At one point there is a problem with duplicate numbers and Lale is able to determine that part of one number has been distorted as for instance an 8 turned to a 3. For some reason he is impressed with Gita when it is her turn to be tattooed and is able to make contact with her later on. It is only at the end of the imprisonment that she tells him her last name which is one clue to finding her.
Freedom in a concentration camp is extremely curtailed, but in reality many of the inmates had carved out some small amount of freedom. Anything of value was confiscated by the authorities, but sometimes they were careless and allowed some small bits of jewelry or foreign currencies to be found by the inmates who used such items for favors among themselves, some outsiders or even (including the protagonist) to the prison staff. Favors could include getting extra food, some medicine or even privacy.
A poignant moment was when Lale asks Gita if he could kiss her. She expresses surprise, asks why would you want to, my teeth are rotten. He replies that so are his. Such intimacies were rare, but not to be denied.
As the tattooist Lale is perceived to be a collaborator and traitor. He sees it as a chance not only to survive but to lessen the burden for others. Lale uses his influence to lessen the burden of others, but becomes hardened to the realities for the thousands and thousands he gives their numbers to.
There is a soccer game concocted for the amusement of the prison staff who are pretty confident they can prove their racial superiority. Lale was able to help recruit semi professional players among the Jewish inmates. They started off with goals, but self protection and poor condition allowed the guards to win. Similar stories of the disadvantaged somehow winning might be true, but in Auschwitz not only was it dangerous to provoke those with literally life and death authority, but also the players had been starving.
As guards realize Russians are at hand confusion stirs and the German staff become ambivalent, realizing they are guilty and concerned about their own survival. Others feel they must expedite killing more Jews The two characters are separated and seek to survive amongst chaos. They do contact and marry and eventually end up in Australia where they had one son who contributed an epilogue for the book.
The Holocaust is one of the most real horror stories of the century, but it is also contains a testiment to the resilience of mankind. We should never forget the horror and what lead up to it, but cherish the love that survived.
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