This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" by Heather Morris. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Who are Lale and Gita from The Tattooist of Auschwitz? How did the two lovers manage to maintain a relationship as prisoners in Auschwitz? Did they get their happily ever after?
In the book The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Lale and Gita are prisoners in Auschwitz during WWII. Despite their horrible situation and against all odds, the two fell in love. Find out what happened in this story based on true events.
Keep reading to learn about Lale and Gita’s love story.
Lale and Gita: An Unlikely Love Story
During World War II, six million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis—many at concentration camps. One of the worst camps was Auschwitz-Birkenau, where hundreds of thousands of Jews and other German enemies were imprisoned. Yet one man found a way to survive the camp. He became the tattooist, marking each arriving prisoner with a six-digit number that would become their new identity. This work protected him from the worst treatment and helped him meet the young woman he would fall madly in love with. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is the fictionalized harrowing tale of love and perseverance in one of the darkest moments in history.
How Lale and Gita Met
Lale Sokolov keeps his eyes focused on the slip of paper, not the girl handing it to him. In his most gentle way, he holds her arm and punctures her skin over and over with his needle. Blood spills out, but he has to go deeper. She doesn’t protest, as she knows better than to do.
Someone tells him to hurry up. He’s being too delicate with this girl. He doesn’t like to tattoo women. He thinks of it as defiling them. A man in a white coat moves down the row examining all the young girls receiving their brand. The man reaches for the girl’s face. She looks like she wants to say something, but Lale squeezes her arm. Sshh.
When the man leaves, Lale finishes her tattoo and finally looks up. He meets her eyes and smiles, and she smiles slightly in return. In one instant, his heart begins to pound heavily in his chest. He grows dizzy but is pulled out of his lovestruck stupor when another slip of paper is passed to him. He looks up. The girl is already gone.
Their Relationship Grows
Sundays are the prisoners’ day off at the camp, and the men and women gather in the yard in groups. Lale is usually one of those men, but one Sunday, he stumbles across the young woman he tattooed who caused his heart to skip a beat. Like before, their eyes lock, and he feels the breath leave his body. They hold each other’s gaze until Baretski interrupts.
The girl’s companions scatter, but she doesn’t move, seemingly as transfixed by Lale as he is by her. Baretski quickly notices and begins to tease Lale. He says he’ll get him some paper and a pencil so Lale can write her a note, but Lale doesn’t respond. Paper and a pencil are contraband. They both know what will happen if he is caught.
Sunday comes, and Lale rushes through breakfast. He shoves half of his bread up his sleeve to give to this girl when they meet. For a long time, he looks for the girl but doesn’t see her. Then, he spots her with a group of friends. Like the teenagers they are, the girl’s friends giggle at the sight of Lale. Lale gives her the bread and asks her name. One of her friends tells him it’s Gita, then whisks her away. It isn’t the meeting he imagined, but at least he gets her name.
In the privacy of the women’s barracks, Gita reads Lale’s note again and again and gossips with her friends. The next Sunday, she searches for Lale in the yard. She’s distraught that she can’t find him, but suddenly, he swoops in from behind and grabs her hand. Gita’s friends giggle when he pulls her away and takes her behind the administration building. They sit against the wall, and Gita asks if they’re safe. Lale doubts it, but he had to be close to her.
Their conversation is light. They joke about how their days are going, giving answers that would have been true back in the real world. Their hands drift closer and touch. Lale says he wants to know everything about her, but she says there is nothing to know except what her number is in the camp. For her, the outside world doesn’t exist anymore. But he does learn that she works in one of the warehouses where they take the confiscated possessions from the Jews. Lale says he’s heard they find jewels and cash sometimes. But Gita says all she finds is moldy food.
When the siren blares, signaling the end of “free” time, Lale helps Gita to her feet. He says he will bring her food next time. He also tells her to be careful at her job and always be on the lookout for the SS. They stare into each other’s eyes for longer than is safe, then walk back to join the others.
Lale Saves Gita
One Sunday, Lale can’t find Gita. He circles the yard, but when he doesn’t see her or her friends, he risks punishment by moving closer to the women’s camp. Suddenly, Gita’s friend Dana appears outside their block. She tells Lale that Gita has typhus and is very sick. The kapo wants to transfer her to the hospital, but Lale’s seen what happens to people at the hospital at the hands of the doctors and fears for Gita. He tells Dana to help Gita go to work each day and pretend that everything is fine until he can get some medicine.
The next morning, Lale takes all the bounty he’s collected, a small fortune, and gives it to Victor in exchange for penicillin. Victor agrees to bring some the next day. Afterward, Lale and Leon go to work. Lale tries to focus on tattooing the newcomers, but he’s consumed with worry about Gita’s health and future at the camp.
As soon as the last person is tattooed, Lale packs up and hurries toward Gita’s block. Dana tells him they were successful in getting her to work and keeping her hydrated. Lale gives Dana all of his breakfast rations and says he’ll have medicine soon. He doesn’t have to wait long. Victor brings him a small vial of penicillin the next day, along with the usual food packages.
A couple days later, Lale is relieved to see Dana and their other friend Ivana carrying a slightly improved Gita to work. The medicine has started to work already. Lale wants to make sure Gita never gets sick again, so he goes to Baretski and does something he never thought he’d do—asks for a favor. Lale asks for Gita to be transferred to work in the administration office, where there is heat. Baretski says he’ll try and finds great enjoyment in telling Lale that this favor will need to be returned in the future.
Lale and Gita grow closer, and he daydreams with her about escaping the camp and starting a family someday. Gita thinks it’s a beautiful dream, but she has a hard time believing it. She can’t muster the same hope and has even refused to tell him her last name until they are free, as though revealing that piece of her would make her a real person.
The Fall of Auschwitz
Lale walks outside and sees thousands of women lined up in rows awaiting a fate no one seems to have any information about, not even the SS. It’s pandemonium. Lale rushes through the rows searching for Gita. At last, he sees her near the main gate. Only Dana is with her, and they’re both crying.
Dana sees Lale first, and the two women move back in the line to try to get closer. Lale and Gita lock eyes across the yard. He wants to run to her, but an officer smacks him with a rifle across the face. Blood spurts from a large cut on his forehead, but he manages to stand. He pushes forward and screams Gita’s name. Somehow, amid the shouting and barking, he hears her call to him. She shouts her name, revealing her last name for the first time—Gita Furman. Lale watches his love get swept out with the rest of the women and stands helpless as the gate closes behind them.
At this point, Auschwitz has fallen and both Lale and Gita have escaped. Lale returned home to his sister in Slovakia and Gita returned to her home in Bratislava.
Lale tells his sister Goldie and Mrs. Molnar about Gita and his belief that she is still out there somewhere. He says he doesn’t know how to find her or where to even start.
Goldie and Mrs. Molnar are captivated by this love story and urge him to leave at once to begin his search. They make food for his journey, and Lale buys a cart with one horse. He’s sad to say goodbye to Goldie so soon, but she tells him not to come back until Gita is with him.
Lale travels across the country for three days and finally makes it back to Bratislava. By now, he’s learned that many survivors are traveling to the city by train, so he heads to the station. For two weeks, Lale checks each arriving passenger but doesn’t find Gita. Occasionally, he comes across another Birkenau woman, but none know of his love. One of the station workers suggests that Lale register Gita with the Red Cross. He figures it’s as good a plan as any and heads toward the main district.
It’s a lovely afternoon when Gita and two friends see a strange horse-driven cart coming toward them on the street. There’s a man standing in the back, a man who looks familiar. The cart slows, and so does her heartbeat. As the man climbs down, Gita moves away from her friends to get a closer look. When she sees Lale, she steps forward, but he does not move. It is only after Lale hears Gita’s voice that he falls to his knees.
Gita kneels before Lale, and he asks her to marry him. When she says yes, his strength returns, and he picks her up and kisses her. Wrapped in each other’s arms, they walk down the street and mix with the crowd, just another pair of lovers out for a walk.
After years of struggle and disappointment, Lale and Gita finally had a son, Gary, in 1961 when Gita was 36 and Lale 44. They lived a life full of love and joy, facing every challenge together and with a grain of salt.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Tattooist of Auschwitz summary:
- How a man used tattooing skills to stay alive at Auschwitz-Birkenau
- How Lale Sokolov fell in love in these unusual circumstances
- How Lale goes from concentration camp to Russian prisoner before finding freedom