Why You Should Not Read Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris Book Cover

Before you read The Tattooist of Auschwitz, it is very, very important to note that this is historical fiction. Though Heather Morris often alludes that this is an accurate account of life in Auschwitz, it has been proven to be highly inaccurate. If you want to learn more about what Auschwitz was actually like, check out the Auschwitz Museum’s website. If you want some recommended and accurate books, check out this list from the Memorial center and also Night by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel.

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for more than two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

The Auschwitz Memorial called this book “dangerous and disrespectful to history”. They have fact checked the story (you can see an article about that here) and found innumerable errors. Morris was lazy in her research (for example using modern train maps to describe Lale’s journey, which were not accurate in during WW2) – a trait that is highly dangerous when she’s touting this book as biographical and documentarian in nature. She went as far as to invent a bombing plot in which women stored gunpowder under their nails and used it to blow up a crematorium that simply never happened. Adding these kinds of ‘narrative flair” or “artistic license” are irresponsible and paint a wildly incorrect portrait of life in a concentration camp. To me, this is not the kind of story you add Michael Bay-esque explosions to. Respect history.

While Heather Morris did interview Lale (whose nickname wasn’t actually Lale, it was Lali), she is not a historian and it shows. One very basic offense was the fact that she didn’t even get Gita’s number correct. Another detail was Lale getting a hold of penicillin – it was not widely available at this time. She also made up a scene where soldiers poisoned people in a bus – which never actually happened. Most abhorrently, she alleges (and frames an entire sequel around) Cilka being a sex slave to a high ranking SS officer – the Auschwitz Memorial has emphatically refuted this. It’s pretty vile to allege things like this with no proof.

Honestly, skip reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz. It’s factually wrong, and the author is unrepentant in her failings to tell an accurate story. To me, this book (and the sequel) are thinly veiled attempts at profiting off of the shock value of one of the most heinous pieces of world history. If Heather Morris cared as much as she claimed to, she would have properly researched the book before releasing it. 1/5

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5 Comments

  1. Wow. Just Wow.

    I recently read a book like this that I couldn’t even finish. It wasn’t about Auschwitz, but had the same kind of lazy storytelling. It makes me so mad when people take advantage of important pieces of history!

    If you’re interested in an accurate account, Corrie Ten Boom’s book “The Hiding Place” is a first hand account of her own struggles during WWII.

  2. While I often hate publishing bad reviews, that’s when I feel the author tried. In this case, I appreciate that you not only gave reasons for your low star review, but also fact checked the author with sources. Looks like you did more research than she did. Thank you.

  3. Wow, I had no idea. My book group read this earlier in the year and I ended up skipping it because I have not a lot of patience for fictionalized versions of real horrors, especially when there’s romance involved. I appreciate your review and your link to sources. I won’t be reading this book.

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