It had been quite some time since I picked up a book and read it from cover to cover. In fact, it had been a few years since I last read anything other than a newspaper. People often think I must be an avid reader in my spare time due to my line of work, but that’s not the case.
My passion for reading has dwindled a bit during my career as a journalist because I’m reading and writing all day, every day.
By the time I leave work, I would much rather spend my free time outdoors, playing with my children, or just resting on the couch while watching TV.
Sometime last year, my mother handed me a novel and said, “You need to read this and when you’re finished, pass it on to someone else.”
She didn’t know who initially purchased it, only that it was meant to be passed along after each reader had finished it.
The book, “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris, is based on the true story of Lale Eisenberg, a Slovakian Jew, who was transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942 and remained a prisoner for nearly three years. When the Germans discovered he could speak several languages, including German and Hebrew, he was put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), to permanently mark thousands of his fellow prisoners. It’s also a love story, following the paths of Lale and Gita, a woman he met in the camps and fell in love with during their time there.
My entire life, I’ve been captivated by the history of World War II, specifically the Holocaust. I’ve read numerous books on the subject matter and am always intrigued when a story I’ve not heard comes my way.
With honest interest, I promised my mother I would soon give it a read and set it on my nightstand.
Between work, raising children and the everyday tasks of life, the book remained in its spot on the night stand, collecting layer after layer of dust as the months passed by.
This past weekend, my family decided to visit my in-laws for one last “summer hoorah” so the children could all swim together again before the arrival of fall weather.
For whatever reason, just as we were grabbing the keys to get in our car, I impulsively grabbed the book from my nightstand. On the three-hour drive, I had read the first half of the book. By that evening, I had it finished and did my part by passing the novel on to my mother-in-law, who has promised to continue the tradition.
I am ashamed of how long it took me to read this fantastic telling of a harrowing, true story.
As I put the book down and wiped tears from my eyes, my husband said, “That’s why I don’t like reading books like that, why would you want to make yourself sad?”
I thought about what he said and while yes, there were many sad parts and horrific scenes that were difficult to picture in my mind, the book left me feeling appreciative.
In the epilogue, it tells of years later when Lale and Gita are married and have a son, Gary. There is a section near the end where Gary tells a few of his own stories of what his life was like being raised in a home by two Holocaust survivors. One day at the age of 16, he came home from school to learn his father was forced to close his business, their car was being towed and their home was being placed for auction.
“Inside, my mum was packing up all our belongings. She was singing. Wow, I thought to myself, they have just lost everything and Mum is singing? She sat me down to tell me what was going on and I asked her, ‘How can you just pack and sing?’ With a big smile on her face she said that when you spend years not knowing if in five minutes’ time you will be dead, there is not much that you can’t deal with. She said, ‘As long as we are alive and healthy, everything will work out for the best.”
What an incredible perspective that, I’m afraid, most of us don’t have.
I know I find myself worrying over trivial things, like the paint color in our kitchen, what color shirt to wear or whether or not a meal will taste quite right if the store doesn’t carry the brand of olive oil I’m accustomed to.
Why, instead, can’t I be satisfied with having a roof over my head, a closet full of clothes to wear and being fortunate enough to have any food to eat at all?
Let’s face it, we are spoiled. And this is exactly why reading books on history, like “The Tattooist of Auschwitz,” is important.
Every so often, we all need to take the time to become educated about the experiences of people from history.
It would be a shame to think there are people who suffered only for those of us alive today to forget they even existed.
Catherine Kirk is managing editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.