the tale of a tetovierer

Who has inflicted this upon us?
Who has made us Jews different from all other people?
Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now?
It is God that has made us as we are,
but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again.
If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left,
when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed,
will be held up as an example.

Anne Frank


(image of some of the children in Auschwitz holding up their arms to a cameraman,
showing the tattooed number on their arms / BBC)

I am not a fan of tattoos.

I’m just not nor have I ever been.

And this coming from a retired art teacher who had many an aspiring tattoo artist
in class.

I truly believe that what one finds grand, fascinating, bold as well as defining
at say age 18, will not hold the same sense of fascination, boldness nor still
be defining at say age 58…

Plus I can’t help but see a good bit of an underlying psychology underneath a
need to permanently “ink” ones’ body…..

But hey, that’s just me.

It’s obviously not the rest of our culture’s or society’s mindset….
I’m just a one hole pierced earring sort of girl….

I like things understated and simple really…elegant, ageless and timeless.
I blame my grandmother…thankfully.

I grew up with many Jewish friends.
I attended Synagogue with them as they came to church with me.
I feel a deep connection to our Jewish brethren as I happen to
claim one of their own as my Savior.

Yet in all my years, I never knew nor had met anyone who had been a survivor
of the Death Camps.

I knew many a WWII veteran but never an individual who lived to tell the
horrific nightmare of having lived when one was expected to die…

I knew Vietnam Veterans and even POWs of that war, but none from
those infamous Death Camps of a previous war.

So I have never seen an aged wrinkled arm that bears the fading yet distinct
numbers of one’s time spent surviving death.

I did a pencil drawing once of a portion of a forearm and hand…
It was a man’s arm and hand.
There was a number scrawled on the inner wrist running about an inch and a half
lengthwise up the forearm–along with an inch wide hole piercing all the way through
the palm of the hand…
the backdrop was what one would assume to be a rough hewn piece of wood….

His death, the death of the man whose arm I had drawn, had not been in vain and
had not been for but a select few…it had been for all…
as He had been there, in their midst, with all those who had those numbers
inked onto their arms, despite many Jews to this day truly believing that God
had abandoned them during the Shoah …

The biblical word Shoah (which has been used to mean “destruction” since
the Middle Ages) became the standard Hebrew term for the murder of European Jewry
as early as the early 1940s. The word Holocaust,
which came into use in the 1950s as the corresponding term,
originally meant a sacrifice burnt entirely on the altar.
The selection of these two words with religious origins reflects recognition
of the unprecedented nature and magnitude of the events.
Many understand Holocaust as a general term for the crimes and horrors
perpetrated by the Nazis;
others go even farther and use it to encompass other acts of mass murder as well. Consequently, we consider it important to use the Hebrew word Shoah with
regard to the murder of and persecution of
European Jewry in other languages as well.

Yad Vashem

And so I never gave much thought as to those tattooed numbers on those forearms.
I never thought about who was charged with having to “write” them…
I never thought about when exactly it was, during the ordeal,
that they had received them…
And how odd that I had never known anyone who had endured what it meant to have one.

The other day I caught a story with a rather interesting title….
The Tattooist of Auschwitz–and his secret love

Visions of today’s tattoo artists in my mind is of an individual who
themselves is covered in various images and colors, electric pen in hand…
a master of a cultural craft.

Throw in the notion of a secret love and all manner of clandestine activities
suface in one’s imagination.

Clicking on the story, I am met with the tale of a man and of the life
he lived and of an age-long sense of heaviness for having betrayed the
millions who did not survive.
I believe that is called survivors guilt.

And yet in this tale there is found love, loss, rediscovering, life, hope….
and finally a sense of understanding that there was no culpability for
simply having survived.

The story is set in Melbourne, Australia…
a far cry from a Death Camp in 1940’s Poland.
And the hero of this tale actually died in 2006.
It took him until he was well into his 80’s to even be able to share his story…
much of which his now grown son had not known. Not many who survived liked to
talk about their stay.

The story is of Ludwig “Lale” Eisenberg who later changed his name to
Lale Sakolov.

Lale’s story was coaxed out of his memory by Heather Morris
who has since written a book The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Lale was a Slovak Jew who, like the other Jews in Czechoslovakia, was sent
to Auschwitz.
He was 26 years old.
He did manual labor at the camp until he contracted typhoid.
He was cared for by a Frenchman who had actually been the one who had
tattooed Lale’s number on his arm 32407.
The man was known as in the camp as a tetovierer, or tattooist.
He was charged with “writing” the numbers onto the arms of those coming into
the camp who would be staying—those being sent immediately to the gas chambers.
did not receive numbers.

Eventually Lale became the tetovierer to the camp.

Yet in the middle of madness and death, love was actually kindled.

An 18 year old girl found herself standing before Lale…one in a myriad of women
waiting in the long line…
waiting their turn to exchange a life and a name for a number.

Lale did not like tattooing the women—there was always a sickening feeling in
the pit of his stomach, but he did as he was ordered.

Gazing up at this girl who stood before him, his heart was immediately taken
by this girl’s bright eyes.
Her name was Gita.

Gita and Lale’s life together actually began that fateful day in Auschwitz–
and the twists and turns are amazing…

There is a lovely video clip on Heather’s kickstarter page that she put together—
which I assume was created to help raise the necessary funds to write and publish
Lale and Gita’s story.
The book is now available on Amazon…I ordered mine today.

Below are two links—
the first is Heather’s story along with a brief video overview about her finding
and forging a relationship with Lale, who would eventually share his story with her.

The second link is about the story as written by the BBC.

For even in the midst of misery and death, remains hope…there is always Hope.

http://www.bbc.com/news/stories-42568390

11 comments on “the tale of a tetovierer

  1. GP Cox says:

    Throughout my youth, our family doctor was Dr. Metz. When I asked my father about the number tattoo on his arm, I received my first story of the POW camps in the ETO.

  2. atimetoshare.me says:

    The thought of being branded comes to mind. How inhumane to add this to their horror along with the shame loaded upon them. I dislike tattoos as well btw.

  3. oneta hayes says:

    I’d love to read, but Amazon says no e-book available. After the cataract surgery hopefully I can read paper books more efficiently again. Hope so.

    • I’ll let you know how it is when it arrives—maybe Sammy could read it to you?? And when is this surgery?? After my aunt’s cataract surgery, she no longer needed to wear glasses—-

      • oneta hayes says:

        I will have to continue with prescription glasses because of astigmatism. I could have it corrected at the same time, but medicare will not pay and I can use the money in better ways, although I plan to just new prescriptions and glass every three or four years for the next twenty years! Sort of aggravating to have them be able to do it additionally for so little effort but ….. The surgery for the left eye is Jan 23. It will be a special birthday present since my birthday is Jan. 24. The right eye will be two weeks later. 😀

  4. Wow! When I began your post with a nod and smile of agreement, I had no idea it would carry me to such a powerful and unforgettable story. I’m definitely gonna have to read this! And yes… “branding” people… really horrible. Amazing post, dear Julie.

  5. SLIMJIM says:

    What a story…sad and beautiful at the same time.

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