The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The-Tattooist_FCR_Final.jpgTitle: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Author: Heather Morris

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Echo/Bonnier

Published: 1st February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 278

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The incredible story of the Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist and the woman he loved. 

Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, a charmer, a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew. On the first transport from Slovakia to Auschwitz in 1942, Lale immediately stands out to his fellow prisoners. In the camp, he is looked up to, looked out for, and put to work in the privileged position of tätowierer – the tattooist – to mark his fellow prisoners, forever. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance.

His life given new purpose, Lale does his best through the struggle and suffering to use his position for good.

This story, full of beauty and hope, is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz- Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It is heart-wrenching, illuminating, and unforgettable.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1942, Slovakia is slowly falling into the grip of the Nazis as they march across Europe during war time, invading towns and countries, and rounding up Jews, and other groups seen as undesirable in their quest for German victory. Lale Solokov, born Ludwig Eisenberg, volunteers himself at 24 for what they are told is a work detail, to save his family. Lale prepares for a life away from his family, with clothes and books, though none of them know what lies ahead for Lale, or what the future holds in store for any of them as the Nazis continue their rampage. Instead of the promised job, Lale finds himself dumped at Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the most infamous Nazi concentration camps. Here, he will have everything taken from him, his head shaved, and a number inked into his skin, marking him for life as 32407, stripped of any other identity for three years. In Auschwitz, he is given the job of Tätowierer – and must tattoo numbers onto each new arrival – the ones not immediately sent to the gas chambers. It is here he will meet the woman he falls in love with – Gita – and soon finds himself find ways to get contraband to her and spend time with her, all at risk to his own life as well as hers.

In a moving fictionalised account of Lale’s life, Heather Morris, who spent three years interviewing Lale, has recreated the atmosphere of the camp, a dank, smothering atmosphere where the air is thick with ash and the screams of the dying that Lale and other prisoners are forced to listen to as they work in fields, in administration, as Lale tattoos new prisoners every day. Some events Heather imagined, to fill in the gaps, such as a scene where Lale and Gita were together when the American planes flew over Auschwitz, but most of it is true, based on Lale’s recollections.

It is a dark story, because the Holocaust was one of the darkest times in world history. But it is one of those events, and there are many – that we should never forget, never let happen again. Through the dark, colourless life of Auschwitz, and the torturous conditions Lale and Gita had to live in, their love endured, and they never gave up hope of finding each other when the camp finally closed down and the prisoners were sent on death marches or simply ran away, with the hope of finding people who could help them. The shadows that Lale and Gita fought were real, and this is a story that everyone should read, another Holocaust story that reminds us what complacency and allowing evil to manipulate an entire nation can result in.

The language is simple and accessible, yet it deals with the complexities of life, of love and the Holocaust in a way that shocks the reader but at the same time, gives them hope that Lale and Gita will find a way out of the camp. Through the darkness of war and death, it is their love for each other, and determination to live, that brought this story to life so that people reading it now will never forget what happened.

A moving, dark story that must be read, and learnt from so that something like this stays where it should: in the shadows and smoke of history, never to be repeated but to serve as a reminder of what humans are capable of at their very worst.

Booktopia

Advertisements

The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford

good doctor of warsaw.jpgTitle: The Good Doctor of Warsaw

Author: Elisabeth Gifford

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Corvus/Allen and Unwin

Published: 21st February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Set in the ghettos of wartime Warsaw, this is a sweeping, poignant and heartbreaking tale, based on the true story of one of World War II’s quiet heroes – Dr Janusz Korczak.

‘You do not leave a sick child alone to face the dark and you do not leave a child at a time like this.’

Deeply in love and about to marry, students Misha and Sophia flee a Warsaw under Nazi occupation for a chance at freedom. Forced to return to the Warsaw ghetto, they help Misha’s mentor, Dr Korczak, care for the two hundred children in his orphanage. As Korczak struggles to uphold the rights of even the smallest child in the face of unimaginable conditions, he becomes a beacon of hope for the thousands who live behind the walls.

As the noose tightens around the ghetto Misha and Sophia are torn from one another, forcing them to face their worst fears alone. They can only hope to find each other again one day…

Meanwhile, refusing to leave the children unprotected, Korczak must confront a terrible darkness.

Half a million people lived in the Warsaw ghetto. Less than one percent survived to tell their story. This novel is based on the true accounts of Misha and Sophia, and on the life of one of Poland’s greatest men, Dr Janusz Korczak.

~*~

Based on a true story, and the recollections of Misha and Sophia, the protagonists and what they told their family, The Good Doctor of Warsaw retells the story of the Warsaw ghetto, and the orphanage run by Doctor Janusz Korczak. Told mostly from Misha and Sophia’s point of view as they navigate life within the ghetto with each other the orphans and Doctor Korczak, and each other, it is also the story of courage, and the lengths one man went to so he could protect the children of the ghetto in a time of turbulence in war-torn Europe, and a Warsaw that would soon become unrecognisable.  With the ghetto closed off due to claims of disease, starvation begins to set in as the Nazi’s tighten the noose on the ghetto and those within. With meagre supplies being smuggled in from outside the ghetto, Misha and Sophia find themselves separated as they watch everyone they love die, or get marched off to camps in the east, to Treblinka. This is where Doctor Korczak and the children would end up, and where, like many before them, they’d never come home from.

Doctor Korczak’s story is moving and chilling, and his decision to stay with the children, and refusal to abandon his post despite people begging him to save himself is admirable. In a time when he could have taken the easy way out and allowed his Polish and Aryan friends to protect him, he chose to starve and stay with the vulnerable Jewish orphans, and provide a home for them, and a safe place, where they could be loved and listened to.

Elisabeth Gifford’s careful research in Korczak’s life and ideologies on childhood, caring for children, and educating them comes through clearly in the novel, showing the power of love, and respect, where Korczak stood for all children being allowed the same rights and respect, regardless of race, religion, colour, nationality or any other reason someone might use to deny them the rights he believed they deserved. Drawing on Janusz’s journals, and his book, How to Love A Child, and the recollections of Misha and Sophia, Elisabeth Gifford has recreated the hope and horror of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the realisation by many that what was happening was not going to end soon, despite Janusz’s positivity and attempts to keep the children happy and fed, and safe. She has ensured that the gravitas of what happened in the ghetto and during the war is not forgotten, the dangers that Aryan-passing children from the ghetto faced as they found ways to smuggle food from one side to the other, and the hopeless sense of not know if, or when, you or those you cared about might be rounded up and sent off to the camps, a place where you were told you would work. But the fate that awaited them at Treblinka was unforeseen and tragic.

In reading books like this, it reveals the fragility of humanity, and shows what humans are capable of. Janusz sacrificed freedom and life for the children of the orphanage. Elisabeth Gifford has done a fine job recreating this world and story for readers – a story that needs to be told amidst every other fact and report we have from the Holocaust, because it is the human face to these tragedies that should never be forgotten. With novels inspired by true events, the reality of what happened can feel harsher, more eye opening perhaps, but the impact of any accounts and stories will always be significant and thought provoking. The bravery that Doctor Korczak presented, and his care and courage in caring for the children until the end should never be forgotten.

Rooted in one of the darkest moments of human history, it is fascinating, moving, and at times, hard to read and heartbreaking. However, it is also powerful, and a testament to what humans are capable of when they are filled with hatred, but also what they are capable of when they love and accept people as individuals.

Booktopia

The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

Title: The Beast’s Garden

the beasts gardenAuthor: Kate Forsyth

Publisher: Random House

Category: Fiction

Pages: 512

Available formats: Print

Publication Date: 3/8/15

Synopsis:

‘Ava fell in love the night the Nazis first showed their true nature to the world …’ 
A retelling of the Grimms’ Beauty and The Beast, set in Nazi Germany.

It’s August 1939 in Germany, and Ava’s world is in turmoil. To save her father, she must marry a young Nazi officer, Leo von Löwenstein, who works for Hitler’s spy chief in Berlin. However, she hates and fears the brutal Nazi regime, and finds herself compelled to stand against it.
Ava joins an underground resistance movement that seeks to help victims survive the horrors of the German war machine. But she must live a double life, hiding her true feelings from her husband, even as she falls in love with him.

Gradually she comes to realise that Leo is part of a dangerous conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. As Berlin is bombed into ruins, the Gestapo ruthlessly hunt down all resistance and Ava finds herself living hand-to-mouth in the rubble of the shell-shocked city. Both her life and Leo’s hang in the balance.
Filled with danger, intrigue and romance, The Beast’s Garden, a retelling of the Grimm brothers’ ‘Beauty and The Beast’, is a beautiful, compelling love story set in a time when the world seemed on the brink of collapse.

Kate Forsyth weaves fairy tales into history again in her latest offering, The Beast’s Garden. Set in Germany in The Second World War, Ava is thrust into a world of horrors under the Nazi regime. Her world begins to fall apart the Night of The Broken Glass, and as her best friend and father are arrested. To save her father, she weds a Nazi Officer, Leo von Löwenstein. Ava’s horror at the Nazi regime inspires her to join an underground resistance movement, helping the victims, yet hiding this double life from her husband.

As she realises Leo is part of a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, and Berlin is bombed indiscriminately into rubble. Ava is forced to live in the rubble, hand to mouth as the Gestapo hunts down any and all resistance to the regime plaguing Germany.

Kate Forsyth set the Grimm brothers tale, “The Singing, Springing Lark” against this dark period in history. We bear witness to these atrocities through the eyes of Ava, starting when she is nineteen and the fear and danger she encounters trying to help her friends and family, to keep them safe.

The underground resistance Ava joins is peppered with real life figures that fought the Nazi regime, who defied Hitler and who would stand their ground to the death to bring about peace in Germany. Figures such as Libertas Schulze-Boysen and her husband, the Abwher and other figures involved in the Valkyrie plot, and resistance movements such as The Red Orchestra, the movement Libertas and her husband, Harro, were a part of are present in the novel, and though the interactions between these characters and Ava, and the Gestapo, the Goebbels and Mildred Harnack, the only American woman executed by the Nazi regime, add an authenticity to the novel, placing it in the time and place effectively.

The style and substance of the narrative marries perfectly with the history behind it, and the pacing is set so well, that as a reader, one is swept away into action and fear, love and family, and at some stages, an uneasy sense of something being over yet something just as horrible, just as traumatising just around the corner. The climatic end of the book has even pacing, and keeps the reader turning the page until the finale, the peace and sorrow that comes from war.

I thoroughly enjoyed the integration of fairy tale, history and imagination in this latest offering from Kate Forsyth. An engrossing read, it was one that I didn’t want to end yet couldn’t wait to see what happened.

Paving the New Road by Sulari Gentill

rowly-4Book Title: Paving the New Road (Rowland Sinclair, #4)

Author: Sulari Gentill

Publisher: Pantera Press

Genre: Crime, Historical Fiction

Release Date: August 1st, 2012

Book Synopsis: It’s 1933, and the political landscape of Europe is darkening.

Eric Campbell, the man who would be Australia’s Führer, is on a fascist tour of the Continent, meeting dictators over cocktails and seeking allegiances in a common cause. Yet the Australian way of life is not undefended. Old enemies have united to undermine Campbell’s ambitions. The clandestine armies of the Establishment have once again mobilised to thwart any friendship with the Third Reich.

But when their man in Munich is killed, desperate measures are necessary.

Now Rowland Sinclair must travel to Germany to defend Australian democracy from the relentless march of Fascism. Amidst the goosestepping euphoria of a rising Nazi movement, Rowland encounters those who will change the course of history. In a world of spies, murderers and despotic madmen, he can trust no-one but an artist, a poet and a brazen sculptress.

Plots thicken, loyalties are tested and bedfellows become strange indeed

~*~

My fourth sojourn with Rowland, Milt, Edna and Clyde took me away from Sydney, and into Nazi Germany, in 1933. The flight with Kingsford-Smith and the ensuing journey set up the identities that the friends were entering the Fascist nation under the iron fist of Hitler on quite well, and their encounters with historical figures and authors along their journey to prevent Eric Campbell from bringing Nazism back to the shores of Australia that further entrenches the story within the historical context it sits within. Rowland’s trip to Germany sees him taking his brother, Wilfred’s place, for the same task for the Old Guard to stop Campbell’s attempts to introduce Hitler’s ideology to Australia. In this book, rather than disdain for his brother, Wilfred expresses concern at the task Rowland has been asked to take on to save him, and the nation, but nonetheless, provides the support his brother needs for the dangerous expedition to Munich and the Third Reich, following the death of the Old Guard’s previous man posted there. The events of 1933 in Germany were instantly familiar to me, having studied them before. I was immersed in the world so deeply, that it penetrated my dreams. The Third Reich period of history, though horrific in many ways, is fascinating as a study into the horrors that the human race is truly capable of if we blindly follow and believe a leader and their ideology, or turn the other way.

In Munich, Rowland encounters Nancy Wake, Unity Mitford and Albert Goring, amongst other figures, mixed up in the mess of the Third Reich and their book burnings, and the beginnings of the expulsion of Jews, Communists and anyone else that the Nazi Party deems unfavourable. These three figures are fighting against it , in such a way that people believe they are actually supporting it: perhaps the best sort of espionage there is…as long as you don’t get caught. It is these atrocities that bring Rowland into direct contact with what extreme politics can really do, despite his adventures in the previous three novels and his constant indifference. The character development of Rowland and his friends in this novel was executed brilliantly. Their run-ins with the SA and Rohm lead to a finale that had me reading until I had finished the book, well into the late night-time hours, unable to put the book aside until I knew Rowland’s fate.

Poor Rowland has been through so much in these four books, always finding himself at the wrong end of the people he is investigating or spying on, but like a true hero, he always comes through, injured, but alive. Rowland has been and will continue to be a favourite character of Australian literature, and I look forward to reading his further adventures. Sulari Gentill has the ability to entrench her readers within the world of Rowland and Woodlands Estate, or wherever Rowland happens to be where crimes are being committed. Books five and six await, and I am eager for book seven when it makes its appearance.