Ludwig "Lale" Sokolov (né Eisenberg; 28 October 1916 – 31 October 2006), also known as The Tattooist of Auschwitz, was an Austro-Hungarian-born Slovak-Australian businessman and a Holocaust survivor. He was Jewish, and having been sent to Auschwitz in 1942, served as the concentration camp's Tätowierer (tattoo artist) until the camp was liberated near the end of World War II. He did not speak publicly about his wartime experiences until after the death of his wife in 2003 due to fears of being perceived as a Nazi collaborator.
28 October 1916
Korompa, Kingdom of Hungary
|Died||31 October 2006 90)(aged|
He was born in Korompa, Kingdom of Hungary (now Krompachy, Slovakia), on 28 October 1916. In April 1942, Sokolov was part of the transport of Jewish prisoners to Auschwitz. Upon arrival, he was tattooed with the number 32407. He was set to work constructing housing blocks for the expanding camp but soon became ill with typhoid. Having recovered, he became the assistant to Pepan, the then tetovierer (tattooist) of the camp. Pepan "disappeared" roughly four weeks later and Sokolov took over as the tetovierer. As such, he joined the Politische Abteilung and had an SS officer assigned to monitor him. His job meant he was "a step further away from death than the other prisoners", and he received a number of benefits such as a single room, extra rations, and free time when his work had been completed.
Lale met Gisela "Gita" Furman in July 1942 while tattooing an all-female group of new arrivals: he tattooed Gita. While Heather Morris writes that she was given the number 34902 , several news articles have noted that it was in fact 4562. He had used his relatively privileged position to keep her alive by sending her extra food and messages through his personal guard, and having her "moved to a better work station". He was also involved in trading contraband (including jewellery) that was given to him by fellow prisoners, with locals in return for food and provisions.
Two days before the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops (on 27 January 1945), Sokolov was moved to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. He escaped that concentration camp, and returned to his native place, then part of Czechoslovakia. Knowing only Gita Fuhrmannova's name, he went to Bratislava, the main entry point for returning survivors, to search for her. After weeks of searching, she stepped out into the street in front of his horse. The couple married in 1945, and he changed his surname from Eisenberg to the more Russian-sounding Sokolov. He then opened a factory in Bratislava. During this time, he was involved in collecting money in support of the creation of the State of Israel. This activity and the nationalisation of industry by the country's communist government, resulted in him being imprisoned and having his business seized. He was soon released and the couple emigrated to Australia in 1948.
In Australia, Sokolov and his wife settled in Melbourne and opened up a clothing factory. Their only child, Gary, was born in 1961. Though his wife visited Europe a number of times, Sokolov never returned. Following Gita's death in 2003, he finally felt able to speak about his war-time experience having feared that he would be perceived as a collaborator. He was interviewed by Heather Morris over the next three years, and she wrote a book about his life, which was published in 2018. He died in 2006, and is survived by his son.
- Kenneally, Christine. "'The Tattooist of Auschwitz' and the History in Historical Fiction". The New York Times.
- Morris, Heather (10 January 2007). "Obituary: Lale Sokolov". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
- Prasad, Ritu (8 January 2018). "The Tattooist of Auschwitz - and his secret love". BBC News. Retrieved 8 January 2018.