Chapter no 15

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Lale walks determinedly from his block and across the compound. Two SS officers approach him, rifles at the ready. Without breaking step, he holds up his bag.

‘Politische Abteilung!’

The rifles lower and he passes without another word. Lale enters the women’s camp and heads immediately to Block 29, where he is met by the kapo, who leans against the building, looking bored. Her charges are away working. She doesn’t bother to move as he approaches her and takes from his bag a large block of chocolate. Having been warned by Baretski not to interfere in the relationship between the Tätowierer and prisoner 34902, she accepts the bribe.

‘Please bring Gita to me. I’ll wait inside.’

Stuffing the chocolate down her ample bosom and shrugging her shoulders, the kapo sets off to the administration building. Lale goes inside the barracks block, shutting the door behind him. He doesn’t have to wait long. A flash of sunlight – the door opens – tells him she has arrived. Gita sees him standing in the semi-dark, his head bowed.


Lale takes a step towards her. She steps back, hard up against the shut door, clearly distressed.

‘Are you all right? Gita, it’s me.’

He takes one step closer, and is shocked by her visible trembling. ‘Say something, Gita.’

‘You … you …’ she repeats.

‘Yes, it’s me, Lale.’ He takes hold of her two wrists and tries to hold them tightly.

‘Have you any idea what goes through your head when the SS come for you? Any idea at all?’

‘Gita …’



‘How could you? How could you let the SS take me?’

Lale is dumbfounded. He relaxes his grip on her wrists and she pulls free and turns away.

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. I just asked your kapo to have you brought here. I needed to see you.’

‘When someone is taken away by the SS, they are never seen again. Do you understand? I thought I was being taken to die, and all I could think of was you. Not that I might never see my friends again, not Cilka who watched

me go and who must be so upset, but that I would never see you. And here you are.’

Lale is ashamed. His selfish need has caused his beloved this distress. Suddenly she runs at him with her fists raised. He reaches out to her as she crashes into him. She strikes him in the chest and tears stream down her face. Lale takes the hits until they subside. Then, slowly, he lifts her face, wiping away tears with his hand and attempting to kiss her. As their lips meet, Gita pulls away, glaring at him. He holds out his arms for her to come back to him. Seeing her reluctance, he lowers them. She runs at him again, this time knocking him back against a wall as she tries to tear his shirt off. Stunned, Lale holds her at arm’s length, but she will have none of it and pushes herself hard against him, kissing him violently. He lifts her from her bottom and she wraps her legs around his waist, kissing so hungrily that she bites his lips. Lale tastes the salt of blood but kisses her back, stumbling onto a nearby bunk where they tumble down together, tearing at each other’s clothes. Their lovemaking is passionate, desperate. It is a need, so long in the making that it cannot be denied. Two people desperate for the love and intimacy they fear they will otherwise never experience. It seals their commitment to each other, and Lale knows at this moment that he can love no other. It strengthens his resolve to go on another day, and another day, for a thousand days, for however long it takes for them to live by his words to Gita, ‘To be free to make love whenever, wherever we want.’

Exhausted, they lie in each other’s arms. Gita falls asleep and Lale spends a long time just looking at her. The physical fight between them is over, replaced by a raging tumult within Lale. What has this place done to us? What has it made us become? How much longer can we go on? She thought it was all ending today. I caused that pain. I must never do that again.

He touches his lip. Winces. It breaks his dark mood and he smiles at the thought of where the pain has come from. He gently kisses Gita awake.

‘Hi there,’ he whispers.



Gita rolls onto her stomach and looks at him, troubled. ‘Are you all right? You looked, I don’t know … Even though I was upset when I came in, now that I think about it, you looked terrible.’

Lale closes his eyes, sighing deeply. ‘What happened?’

‘Let’s just say I took another step into the abyss but got to step back out of it.’

‘Will you tell me one day?’ ‘Probably not. Don’t push it, Gita.’ She nods.

‘Now I think you’d better go back to the office so Cilka and the others can see that you’re OK.’

‘Mmmm. I want to stay here with you, forever.’ ‘Forever is a long time.’

‘Or it could be tomorrow,’ she says. ‘No, it won’t be.’

Gita turns her head away, blushing, closing her eyes. ‘What are you thinking?’ he asks.

‘I’m listening. To the walls.’ ‘What are they saying?’

‘Nothing. They’re breathing heavily, weeping for those who leave here in the morning and do not return at night.’

‘They are not weeping for you, my love.’ ‘Not today. I know that now.’

‘Or tomorrow. They will never weep for you. Now, get out of here and get back to work.’

She curls into a ball. ‘Can you go first? I need to find my clothes.’

After one last kiss, Lale scrambles around for his clothes. Dressed, he gives her another quick kiss before leaving. Outside the block, the kapo is back in her position against the wall.

‘Feeling better, Tätowierer?’ ‘Yes, thanks.’

‘The chocolate is lovely. I like sausage too.’ ‘I’ll see what I can do.’

‘You do that, Tätowierer. See you.’

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