FACT-CHECKING 'THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ'
Wanda Witek-Malicka, Auschwitz Memorial Research Center
A reading of the novel verifies the assurance of its factual and documentary character. Although the story is built around the fate of an authentic KL Auschwitz prisoner - whose stay in the camp and part of his camp life may be confirmed by surviving archival documentation - the book contains numerous errors and information inconsistent with the facts, as well as exaggerations, misinterpretations and understatements on which the overall inauthentic picture of the camp reality is built. The book states: "Every reasonable attempt to verify the facts against available documentation has been made". Let’s take a look...
On 27 January 2018, on the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of KL Auschwitz, the book 'The Tattooist of Auschwitz' by Heather Morris, a New Zealander currently residing in Australia, was published under the imprint of the Australian publishing house Bonnier Publishing. The book has become an undisputed bestseller, and its publishing success may be proved by the fact that within a year, it has been translated into several languages, among others German, Dutch, Spanish, Czech, Italian, Croatian, Portuguese, Ukrainian, Greek, French, Swedish and Hungarian. The Polish version, translated by Kaja Gucio, was released in April 2018. Its popularity, as well as the huge interest and emotions raised, however, also raises concern that this title will become for many readers a source of knowledge and imagination about the reality of life in KL Auschwitz. This is especially true given that both the author, as well as reviewers, spare no words to emphasise the documentary nature of this title. 'In memory of Lale Sokolov. Thank you for entrusting me with your story,' we read in the author’s dedication on the first page of the book. The publication's introductory reviews state 'The Tattooist from Auschwitz is a unique document'; 'Heather Morris meticulously reproduces the fate of a man who happened to live in the most dreadful place in the world'. Finally, on the back cover, Polish readers will find information in bold type: 'Best-selling novel - based on facts - in the calibre of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Schindler’s List'.
Based on preserved documents it can, therefore, be confirmed that Lale Sokolov (formerly Ludwig Eisenberg) arrived in Auschwitz on 23 April 1942 with the RSHA transport from Slovakia. However, contrary to information contained in the book, the transport could not have travelled through Ostrava and Pszczyna. From the surviving itinerary of deportee trains compiled by the Slovak and Reichsbahn railways directorate at the time, the trains travelled through Zwardoń, Żywiec, Bielsko and Dziedzice (at 11:34), and then via the shortest route through Dankowice (12:01) to Oświęcim (12:28). Why, then, did the author conclude that the train passed Pszczyna along the way? Here, she probably used the modern online search engine of railway connections which, a few years ago, due to the renovation of the Dziedzice - Oświęcim railway line, showed a significantly circuitous route: from Slovakia through the Czech Republic and Katowice. This error cannot otherwise be explained.
Among those deported the following day were 543 Jewish prisoners registered in the camp. Ludwig Eisenberg (in camp documentation Ludovit Eisenberg, born 28 October 1916, deported from Krompachy) was registered as number 32407 as a Slovak Jew, a locksmith by profession. The accounts of former prisoner Stanisław Gładysz, deported to Auschwitz on 28 January 1943 and given number 95559, prove that he was already working as a tattooist at the beginning of 1943. He recalled that the tattooing process took place in Birkenau between barracks 19 and 20 at the BIb section, and one of the tattooing prisoners was called Eisenberg.