The Tattooist of Auschwitz
January 8, 2018 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Speaks to the power of the human spirit and its resiliency to survive against all odds. What an interesting story. That was powerful. Thank you for sharing that.
posted by Fizz at 11:57 AM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

It is important to tell this story as it humanises a role that very few people think about when thinking about this horrific period," he adds. "Who was the person tasked with inflicting this horrendous physical degradation? Why did he do it? What was his life like? Whatever happened to him?
I worked in a bakery in Melbourne as a teenager in the early 1980s, in the part of town where many Jewish war refugees made their home (St Kilda to Caulfield area). I remember one customer who wore plastic bags over her shoes and rubber dish washing gloves and who came in only once a week when no one else was in the shop. Reaching to take her paper-wrapped and bagged brioche, her gloves rode up her wrist revealing her tattooed number. I knew that meant she had been in a concentration camp but I didn't realise until reading this article that only Auschwitz and its off-shoot camps tattooed their victims. At first I felt reluctant to engage with this strange damaged woman because I was an ignorant teenager but as the weeks went on I began to warm to her as I realised the strength and courage it took for her to engage with the world, and the measures she used to make that possible. So I began to honour her with what I could. I would deliberately and obviously change my food service gloves to a new set to serve her. I would offer her a selection of brioche plaits. This one? How about this one? I would wrap it carefully in paper, tape it and then wrap another piece of paper around it before bagging it twice in plastic. Once, not long before she stopped coming to the store, I saw her release a small smile, or at least her cheeks contracted and her lips arched upwards. She never spoke, only pointed but I served her as if she did, as if she was the most important customer who ever walked in. Because, for me and my learning about humanity, she was.
posted by Thella at 1:37 PM on January 8, 2018 [85 favorites]

I admit I also never once thought about the tattooist at Auschwitz before. This was a great link; I look forward to the book.
posted by jeather at 1:46 PM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thella, fuck. Who is chopping onions up in here!?!
posted by Fizz at 1:47 PM on January 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

posted by msbubbaclees at 1:56 PM on January 8, 2018

In my hometown during my high-school years, I lived next door to a Jewish synagogue-owned apartment building. The rabbi's daughter was my friend (and I'm still in touch with her). One of the occupants was an older woman with a blue tattoo on her arm. I knew what it meant and we tentatively discussed it. I didn't want to be nosy or rude or intrusive, and I think she didn't want to overwhelm me, so we tiptoed around it. I've never forgotten it or her.
posted by MovableBookLady at 2:08 PM on January 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Thank you, Thella.
posted by Avarith at 2:29 PM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

All of my Hebrew School/Sunday School teachers had the tattoos. In fact, I was in college before I ever saw a tattoo other than the camp numbers, which is likely why I find tattoos so violative and viscerally unappealing. While I never gave much thought about the tattooists, I always assumed that the Nazis did it themselves, but of course they outsourced their cruelty to create the most angst.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 4:21 PM on January 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

I used to work in a grocery store in Skokie, Illinois, in the late 80s, and we had a handful of regulars with visible tattoos (and I'm sure many more with hidden ones.) Even as a teen I knew we had to raise our game with these folks and bend over backwards for them. I think about my time in that store a lot, even now; I feel like I could have learned a lot more about the world if I'd taken the time to connect with some of those people.
posted by davejay at 4:54 PM on January 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

My grandma's best friend when I was growing up in the San Fernando Valley was Fritzie. Fritzie, I learned, had the tattoo. I saw it a couple of times, during the summer when it was too hot in the valley even to cover up that. It fascinated me to no end and I read everything I could about the camps as a pre-teen/teenager wondering what Fritzie had gone through.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:27 AM on January 9, 2018

I grew up with people whose grandparents had survived this. Not many, but enough that the fan-out of two generations meant a large number of people had a personal connection to a holocaust survivor. We had survivors come and lecture in our high school. We heard speeches and interviews and got to ask our questions in our shaky teenage voices and hear their answers while they looked us in the eyes.

We hit that point recently when the last WW1 veteran passed on, some young boy who had lied about his age in 1918 or a tale not unlike that. When that happened, I wondered when we would reach the generation who would never meet a holocaust survivor face-to-face. It feels like a harder boundary between the centuries to me than the roll-over of digits or the direct memories of 9/11.

I hope we do not produce another set of survivors like that one, but I also feel we are poorer for their passing.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 7:25 AM on January 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

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