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 is Jakub in The Tattooist of Auschwitz? How does Jakub’s act of defiance save Lale and the women?
In The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Jakub is a large, strong man who Lale snuck food to. Jakub is tasked with torturing names out of Lale but only fakes the torture because he doesn’t want more innocent people to get hurt on his account.
Continue on for The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Jakub and Lale’s encounter.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz: Jakub Defies the Germans
The siren blares, and Lale heads back to his block. The Romany children are out playing, but when they see Lale, they stop. Lale knows something is not right. When he opens the door to his room, he finds two SS officers standing next to his bed, the entirety of his secret stash displayed.
The officers march Lale at gunpoint out of the camp. Lale assumes he will be shot, but he is taken to Houstek’s office instead. Houstek demands to know the names of the women who smuggled the possessions out of the warehouses. Lale says he doesn’t know because he never asked for their names. Houstek is furious. Not only does he not get the information he wants, but now he has to find a new tattooer, too. He tells the officers to put Lale in Block 11. In Block 11, men are tortured and often shot against the execution wall behind then, known as the Black Wall.
Jakub the Strong
Lale sits in a dark cell for two days without one word from anyone. Then, on the third day, a large Jewish man enters the cell. Lale recognizes him immediately, he sees everybody who arrives as the tattooist of Auschwitz. Jakub is the man’s name, and Lale helped him his first night at the camp. He was bigger than two men, and Lale could see that he wasn’t going to survive on the meager rations he was given. Lale gave him his extra food that night.
In The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Jakub is surprised to see Lale in the cell. Like everyone else, including Lale, he thought Lale was untouchable. Jakub is truly hurt when he tells Lale that he must beat him until he turns over the names of the women. He tells Lale he has no choice. He, too, must do his duty if he wants to survive. Lale understands and starts to think of a way out of this, but then Jakub surprises him by saying he will not accept any names from him.
Jakub will beat Lale and will make it look bad, but he’s not going to torture him like they want. He will kill Lale to keep him from suffering if he has to, but he will not take names. He doesn’t want any more innocent blood on his hands. If killing Lale means saving several others, he’ll do it for both their sakes. Lale tells Jakub to do what he must.
Putting on a Show
The next day in The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Jakub takes Lale from his cell. He drags him into another room, one with handcuffs attached to the ceiling and a long switch on the floor. Two SS officers are there to observe, but they look thoroughly bored. Jakub punches Lale in the face. Lale sees Jakub rearing a leg back for a kick and backs up just as the foot lands. He feigns more pain than he actually feels. Another punch lands, this time breaking Lale’s nose. Blood gushes, and suddenly the officers are more intrigued.
Jakub puts Lale in the handcuffs and whips him several times on his back and behind with the switch. This time, Lale is not feigning the pain. Jakub grabs Lale by the hair and pulls his head back. He screams for Lale to talk, but then he quickly whispers that Lale should say nothing and pretend to pass out. Another punch lands in Lale’s gut, and he passes out. Jakub tells the officers that Lale doesn’t know anything. If he did, he would have said it. The officers leave, and Jakub takes Lale back to his cell.
For the next few days, Jakub brings Lale food and water and gives him clean shirts to wear over his wounds. Lale will be scarred for life, Jakub says, but he’ll survive. Lale isn’t so sure Jakub’s words are true when officers pull him from the cell the following day. He’s delivered back to Houstek, who accepts that Lale has no information. Still, he must be punished. He sends Lale to live in a block designated for hard labor. In The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Jakub’s act of defiance saved Lale and the smuggling women.
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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