The love story of a Jewish man held prisoner at Auschwitz has been revealed in a new book
Lale Sokolov was 26 years old when he was sent to Auschwitz in April 1942 from Krompachy, in what is now Slovakia, and forced to become one of the death camp’s tattooists under the evil watch of Nazi chief Josef Mengele.
Mr Sokolov, unaware of the horrors that awaited him had offered himself to the invading Nazis for labour, hoping it might spare his family.
He felt great shame but as he pierced the arm of his latest campmate with the numbers 34902 the Jewish prisoner dared to look up into the eyes of an 18-year-old girl named Gisela Fuhrmannova.
Miss Fuhrmannova, who was known as Gita, gave him the will to survive the horror.
Heather Morris, whose new book The Tattooist of Auschwitz tells their incredible tale, said: “In this the most heinous of places, love bloomed.
“For more than 50 years Lale and Gita kept their prison romance to themselves.
Miss Fuhrmannova, who was known as Gita, gave him the will to survive the horror
“It was only after Gita’s death that Lale would speak of this time, and asked me to record the incredible story of the beginning of their life together.”
“To him, it was all about looking into those eyes of that 18-year-old girl.”
Initially, Miss Fuhrmannova saw no point in falling in love as the young Jewish girl saw no future beyond the death camp.
Ms Morris, who was told the story by Mr Sokolov, added: “Gita had very strong doubts. She didn’t see a future.”
But Mr Sokolov was determined to survive so they could be together.
Ms Morris said: “He always, deep down, knew that he was going to survive.”
For more than 50 years Lale and Gita kept their prison romance to themselves
Mr Sokolov contracted typhoid while in Auschwitz and was cared for by another prisoner, a French academic called Pepan, who later took him on as his tattoo assistant.
Ms Morris added: “You took whatever was being offered. You took it and you were grateful because it meant that you might wake up the next morning.
Recalling how Mr Sokolov had once summed it up, she said: “If you woke up and were alive, it was a good day.”
Mr Sokolov used his position to secure extra rations and favours for fellow prisoners and it was while working alongside Pepan that, in July 1942, he met Miss Fuhrmannova.
When Pepan disappeared with no explanation, Lale became chief tattooist – know as the “tetovierer” .
Securing extra rations and favours for other inmates was risky and Mr Sokolov was beaten when SS guards caught him.
Ms Morris added: “Mengele was a common sight as he chose his ‘patients’ from the new arrivals, sending them Lale’s way.
“On many occasions, while whistling an operatic tune, he would sidle up to Lale and terrorise him, ‘One day, tetovierer, I’ll take you – one day’.”
Then in 1945, with the Nazis nearing defeat, Miss Fuhrmannova was selected to leave Auschwitz.
Mr Sokolov having no idea where she had gone managed a daring escape, breaking free from Mauthausen camp, where he had been moved, and bravely swam across the Danube river under the crossfire of German and Russian troops.
Selling jewels he had stolen from Nazi guards, Mr Sokolov made his way home where he discovered only one sister had survived the horrific ordeal.
He then travelled to Bratislava – the entry point for many survivors returning home to Czechoslovakia – in a bid to find Miss Fuhrmannova.
Mr Sokolov waited for weeks at the main railway station and just as he was about to give up all hope a woman stepped out in front of him
The pair married in October 1945 and emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, where they started a new life and had a son, Gary, in 1961
But when Gita died in 2003, aged 79, Mr Sokolov finally felt ready to tell their story.
Ms Morris added: “This man, the tattooist from the most infamous concentration camp, kept his secret in the mistaken belief that he had something to hide.”
The pair’s love story is understood to have attracted Hollywood’s attention and according to Ms Morris, Mr Sokolov would be pleased.
She added: “He wanted Brad Pitt to play him and Natalie Portman he thought would be perfect for Gita. Oh how I loved his optimism.”