View Full Version : "This man was the savior tattoo artist of the Holocaust"

The Bobster
09-10-2018, 01:36 PM

This man was the savior tattoo artist of the Holocaust
By (((Michael Kaplan)))
September 8, 2018 | 6:45pm | Updated

Lale Sokolov
Heather Morris

To the German commandants at Auschwitz, Lale Sokolov was a compliant Jew easily manipulated to do their dirty work. To recent arrivals, he was a stolid man who would not make eye contact as he tattooed numbers onto their forearms. :rolleyes: But to the concentration camp’s incarcerated population, Sokolov was a savior who shared extra rations, altered prisoners’ tattoos to keep them from the gas chamber and helped doomed men pull off daredevil escapes. :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

When, decades later Sokolov looked back at those dark days, he viewed himself differently. “Many survivors saw him as a hero,” Heather Morris, 65, told The Post. “I told that to Lale and he snapped at me. He said, ‘I was no hero. I just did the right thing.’”

His extraordinary life is captured in Morris’ all-but-true novel :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes: “The Tattooist of Ausch*witz” (Harper), out this week in the US and already a hit in the UK.

Sokolov was born in 1916, grew up in a Slovakian village and developed a reputation as a man about town. That changed in April 1942 following an edict that every Jewish family had to give up children over 16 to labor for the Nazi cause.

Upon arrival at Ausch*witz, 26-year-old Sokolov saw the weak and infirm shot in their tracks. :rolleyes: Those who made it were forced to build new structures for the death camp. “After a few months, he contracted *typhoid,” said Morris. “He was taken out of the prison block, semi-conscious, and put on a death cart.” :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

Joining a pile of the dead and nearly dead, Sokolov was destined for a mass grave. But a fellow prisoner bravely pulled him off the cart. Hidden in a barrack, Sokolov was surreptitiously nursed back to health. :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes: The prisoner who saved him, a Frenchman named Pepan, was, at the time, the tattooist of Auschwitz. The digits that he indelibly inked were used to identify prisoners but also served to dehumanize them. :rolleyes: Pepan asked the now-healthy Sokolov to be his assistant. A quick study who spoke five languages, Sokolov quickly picked up the cruel craft.

When Pepan mysteriously disappeared :rolleyes:, Soko*lov took his place. In a terrible world, he held a coveted job: It had him sleeping in a private room, receiving larger rations of food and having freedom to stroll the camp unfettered. But the post also landed him on the *radar of sadistic physician Josef Mengele. :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

“Mengele put the fear of God into him,” said Morris. “He would say to Lale, ‘One day, tattooist, I will take you,’ and put a gun to his temple.” :D

But it was worth risking his own life to help others. Czesław Mordowicz had escaped Auschwitz, but was captured and brought back. The punishment was public hanging at the camp. Sokolov changed his number to a rose tattoo so that Mordowicz was not identifiable as a Jew. :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes: Mordowicz was able to escape again and elude capture because there were no numbers tying him back to Auschwitz. :blink:

Often, Sokolov avoided interaction with those he tattooed — “You don’t want to look somebody in the eye when you are harming them,” he told Morris. But there was one exception.

“He was called to re-tattoo some girls with fading numbers,” said Morris. “He thought that one, Gita Fuhrmannova, was about to speak. But she didn’t. Then he squeezed her arm hard and she looked at him. Lale told me, ‘I knew in that second that I would never love another.’”

The feeling was mutual. Morris said the couple managed “stolen moments.” Sokolov bribed locals who worked in the camp to smuggle in sausage and chocolate for him. :rolleyes: Madly in love, he risked his life by bribing block supervisors: In exchange for the delicacies, supervisors would pull Fuhrmannova from her work assignments so she could spend time alone with Sokolov. :glare:

By 1945, defeat loomed for the Nazis. Auschwitz, was in chaos. Documents were being destroyed. Prisoners were being killed. Two days before Russians arrived to liberate the camp, all the women were taken on a death march. :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

In April of that year, five months before the war ended, Sokolov escaped from a second camp and landed in Bratislava, Slovakia. He searched the streets for Fuhrmannova, convinced that she had survived. He was right. Upon encountering her on a Bratislavan street, Sokolov dropped to his knees and proposed. They went on to live a long life together in Melbourne, Australia, where Sokolov earned a living as a fabric importer. The couple had a son and kept their story secret. :rolleyes:

In 2003, the year that Fuhrmannova died at 78, Sokolow decided that their tale should be told. Through a mutual friend, Morris was put in touch with him. Over the next three years, thousands of hours of conversation ensued, eventually taking shape as a a novel. (Morris explained that she was most comfortable fictionalizing the story, as she did not get to meet Fuhrmannova or hear her story.)

Sokolov died in 2006 at age 90. “He’d be thrilled to know that his story is being told,” said Morris. “He wanted everyone to know about his falling in love with the most beautiful girl in the world.” :rolleyes: