What’s Ashley Reading?: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

History has been my favorite subject since middle school.  I loved the stories of people’s lives and how they shaped the world we live in today.  I read a lot of historical fiction novels.  When I was younger my interest was on World War II and the Holocaust.  It was and is hard to imagine what happened and reading about it helped me to understand it better.

We have some wonderful databases that are useful when studying history.  It covers world and American history.  There are links to articles and journals that are helpful for writing research papers.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

First line: Lale tries not to look up.

Summary: Based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, a Jew from Slovakia, who spent several years in Auschwitz as the Tatowierer. His job was to tattoo the numbers onto the arms of all incoming inmates. He witnesses shocking things every day. It is hard to imagine a happy world after the atrocities of the camp. When he meets a young woman, Gita, he uses his influence to keep her alive and safe.

Highlights: This story is heartbreaking but also beautiful. Lale is put in the most terrifying place but somehow keeps his spirits up in hopes of a brighter future. He learns quickly how to navigate life in Auschwitz. He “befriends” an officer who gives him news of the camp. The job of tattooist is a stroke of luck bringing him privileges which he uses to help out his fellow inmates. He was a good and honest man who did much to keep people alive and strong. It shows how being kind can lead to good things. I love his relationship with Gita. Even in such a horrible place he found the love of his life.

The writing was very simple but the story is powerful. It is shocking to hear the stories of survivors of such a place. I cannot even imagine living through those conditions. Read the author’s notes at the end where she discusses the interviews over years where Lale told his story.

Lowlights: Like I said before the writing is very simple. Sometimes it seemed a little choppy but if you can get past that the story is well worth the read.

FYI: If you found this interesting then check out The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe.

Book Review: Spinning Silver

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

First line: The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard.

Summary: When Miryem takes over her father’s money lending business she excels at it. She has a talent for making silver into gold. Slowly bringing her family out of poverty, she garners a reputation but it may not be as all she thought it would be. She draws the attention of the Staryk king, a creature of ice and cold who preys on the people of Vysnia.

Highlights: This book is beautiful! It has classic fairy tale themes, Rumpelstiltskin, and the feeling of a Russian folktale. I wish that I had read this in the dead of winter because it is very atmospheric. The story is dark and rich. So much detail and story is packed into it that it takes a while to digest. This is not a summery beach read but one that needs to be savored.

There are at least six points of view throughout the plot and each character has a symbol to represent them. It is a nice touch to separate the narratives. Each character brings their own voice and thoughts to the story. Miryem is the moneylender’s daughter who is stolen away by the Staryk king. Wanda, the servant girl, gives us a peak into the prejudices of the village folk but also the wonder of girl who has been given a chance to better herself. Her younger brother, Stepon, is the innocent who watches and does not completely understand what is happening around him. Irina, the daughter of a duke, has been forgotten and neglected until her father hatches a plan to ensnare the Tsar and therefore putting her in danger. The young tsar, Mirnatius, has a dark secret. And finally Magreta, the nurse who raised Irina and is determined to keep her young charge safe.

With so many plot lines intertwining you would think it would get confusing but it does not. They all come together and conclude the story. The last few chapters are fast paced and the perfect way to end. Be prepared to spend time with these characters in this world. It is a hearty read but worth it.

The Staryk was a tale for a winter’s night.

Lowlights: I love the detail of the story and the characters. Every few chapters though felt a little longer than they needed to be. I am a fan of short chapters so when one stretched on for 50+ pages it took me a little longer to get through.

FYI: Read Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It is fantastic! It is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast which is my favorite fairy tale.

Book Review: The Librarian of Auschwitz

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

First line: The Nazi officers are dressed in black.

Summary: Based on the true life events of Dita Kraus we see the courage and strength of the prisoners of Auschwitz. The story follows Dita, a fourteen-year-old girl, and her parents as they are transported to the death camp. Upon arriving, they are assigned to the family camp. Dita is made to work in the “school” where she meets Freddy Hirsch, the Jewish leader in charge of the children of Auschwitz. Hirsch gives Dita that responsibility of hiding and taking care of the contraband books, becoming the librarian of Auschwitz.

Highlights: I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but I do. And this one is beautiful. I absolutely love it. The story is so rich and detailed but heartbreaking at the same time. I have read many accounts of the Holocaust. The strength of the people who lived and endured these hardships is hard to read but they need to be. No one should be allowed to forget these stories and atrocities have happened. I cannot imagine having the courage that Dita has. She was fourteen and risked her life for the love of books and reading. She kept her humanity in the worst possible situation. I loved how the author intermixed the stories that she read into the narrative. We, as the reader, get to experience what kept her going during the dark days.

Lowlights: Several other narratives of fellow prisoners at Auschwitz are woven into Dita’s story. I was confused at times when the story changed narrators.

FYI: Great as an audiobook!

Book Review: My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me by Jennifer Teege, Nicola Sellmair, and Carolin Sommer (translator)

First line: It is the look on the woman’s face that seems familiar.

Summary: Jennifer Teege was shocked when she learned about her family history while browsing her local library. When she picked up a book and scanned the pictures inside, she was shocked to see her biological mother. As she continued to read, the book followed her mother’s struggle to love her father, Amon Goeth, who was the commandant of the concentration camp depicted in the movie Schindler’s List. Jennifer was adopted at a young age but she had had contact with her biological mother and grandmother as a child. She was never told her family’s past and now she has to come to terms with what they did and did not know.

Dachau (near Munich, Germany)

Highlights: Fascinating story! I have visited Dachau in Germany and felt the heaviness that still surrounds the place. I read this in two days because I had to know more about her and what she learned. The story is interspersed with information and interviews done by one of the coauthors. The pictures were a great addition so I could see what the people looked like.

Lowlights: Some places were a little repetitive. She kept reiterating several key points. I think that it was a strategy to remind the reader but since I read it very quickly they were redundant.

FYI: Originally written in German.

Looking at the rows that once were the barracks.

This book was something I came across when checking in returns and was immediately struck by the title.  I saw the movie Schindler’s List many years ago but I remembered the basics of the story.  I was extremely interested in anything to do with World War II and the Holocaust.  I have read The Diary of Anne Frank, Numbering the Stars by Lois Lowry, The Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene and so many more. I have been able to visit Germany four times and see historical sites but nothing can prepare you for visiting one of the concentration camps.

Crematorium

My first visit to Dachau, the first concentration camp in Germany, was when I was about 10 years old.  It was a scary and disturbing time.  I remember asking to go sit outside because I was getting physically sick. I was able to visit a second time when I was in college and could understand the significance of the place and its history.

I re-watched Schindler’s List recently and was once again shocked by the brutality.  Spielberg and his film convey the heaviness that these places still carry decades later.

It is important to remember these events and learn from them.  As the monument at Dachau says, “Never Again.”