‘The Tattooist Of Auschwitz’ 2024 Recap & Review

I hadn’t heard the name Lali Sokolov until I got this assignment. The Holocaust and the Auschwitz concentration camp are certain things with which everyone is quite familiar, I’m sure, and I am no exception. The Tattooist of Auschwitz, a new miniseries from Stan, Sky Atlantic, and Peacock, tells us Lali’s story. It is adapted from the novel of the same name, penned by first-time author Heather Morris. Upon its release, the novel was riddled with controversy. One of the major allegations against the book was the fabrication of facts, which is obviously a very sensible issue considering the sensitivity of this matter. The series adaptation, however, addresses that in a subtle manner. Lali does tell his story to Heather, but he’s an unreliable narrator. His memory is confused at times. He is unsure about certain events. Even with all that, the story Lali is able to tell is quite remarkable. But does that make The Tattooist of Auschwitz a really great show? Let’s get into that.


Spoilers Ahead

What Happens in the Show?

Out of all the things he ever imagined in life, ending up at a concentration camp was certainly not one of them. Sadly, that’s exactly what happened to Lali in 1942, thanks to the Slovak government’s mandatory policy of at least one person from each Jewish family offering their service to the Nazis. And to think he thought he was going to do some honest work there! By the time Lali realizes that he and a lot of other Slovaks have been tricked into this whole thing, there is no way out. Lali turns into prisoner 32407 at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and soon he falls sick. 


Getting sick is basically a death sentence at Auschwitz, but Lali survives thanks to tattoo artist Pepan taking him under his wing. We never get to know how Pepan dies, but it can very well be assumed that he got killed by a guard or an SS officer for absolutely no reason. As a result of Pepan dying, Lali becomes the tattooist of Auschwitz. Thanks to that, Lali meets Gita, a new prisoner in the women’s barracks. Sparks fly instantly between them, despite how miserable the world around them looks. A junior SS officer, Stefan Baretzki, takes an interest in Lali, mainly for the sake of contraband transfers and having his way with women. Baretzki appears to be a maniac, and he often tortures Lali, but he also keeps helping Lali with his romance with Gita. Baretzki and the woman block officer, Martha, make it possible for the lovers to meet. Things become increasingly difficult when Gita accidentally cuts her arm and suffers from a terrible infection. Lali faces the ordeal of getting hold of the medicines and making sure Gita gets them. Even though it looked impossible at one point, she survived. Soon, Lali finds himself in bigger trouble when a group of SS officers finds his stash of contraband under his bed. He is almost beaten to death, but thanks to Baretzki moving some muscle, he gets saved.

Years go by, and as the second world war is about to come to an end, the survival chances of Lali and Gita start to look very promising. While being moved to another camp, Gita escapes with two of her friends. Lali also finds his way out when the male prisoners are being transferred. The two don’t get to meet instantly, though, as Gita is still in Poland and Lali ends up in Russian-occupied Austria. She has to make sure that she doesn’t fall prey to the Russians, who are no better than the Nazis. He has to work as the “yes man” of the Russians for a while. But ultimately, both manage their way to each other and finally reunite in Bratislava, as promised.


We actually see an older Lali telling this story to Heather Morris, a nurse who now plans to write a book about Lali’s life. The two of them bond quite well during the course of Lali narrating his story. Lali even asks Heather to visit Auschwitz with him by the end. The series leaves us with glimpses from an interview with the real-life Lali, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking.

Final Thoughts 

Here’s the thing: every time a Holocaust movie or show arrives, I start thinking about the kind of impact they’re making. Don’t get me wrong here; the Holocaust is possibly the most inhuman thing the world has ever witnessed. Naturally, when you’re making a piece of media content that either centers on it or circles around it, having the utmost sensitivity is a must. The Tattooist of Auschwitz does score in that area. It shows the horror as it is, without tuning it down or amplifying it. Everything that we see in the show seems very real and is often very difficult to look at. While this approach is commendable, there’s also a major issue. Once you’ve seen the SS officers mercilessly beating Auschwitz prisoners or causally shooting them like nothing ever happened, you become aware of what those people had to endure. Now this show keeps showing you that over and over. The idea of using close-up shots of the victims is undeniably noble, but after a certain point, it gets repetitive.


I hate to say this, but getting through episodes three to five of The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a real struggle, as it comes off as a real slog. The writing is so bland that earnest performances from the cast cannot uplift it. The show does recover in the final episode, though, by doing an introspection, which you probably didn’t see coming. But that doesn’t nullify the fact that, at the end of the day, a lot of The Tattooist of Auschwitz looks like it is made by someone with a holocaust fetish, and that’s not at all a good thing. 

This is the same year where we have a story like One Life as well as Masters of the Air, both of which have stories from the time of World War II. Especially in Masters of the Air, the two main characters spend a large chunk of time as POWs in Nazi concentration camps. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is supposed to be a story of hope and resilience in the face of horror, where both One Life and Masters of the Air excelled. But this show fails to make a mark there, in my book. The way they present the horror here is painfully boring, and the romance between the two leads can’t save it. And despite Harvey Keitel being absolutely terrific as the older Lali, the entire 2003 timeline seems unconvincing. Not to mention, Melanie Lynskey is terribly wasted, as anyone could have played Heather, and it wouldn’t have made any difference.


There can be an argument that it was a conscious decision to make the audience watch how the prisoners were getting tortured by the Nazis over and over. But instead of making an impact, it just puts you to sleep. One must remember that having a great story in your hands is not enough to create good cinema (or good TV). You have to be at the top of your craft; otherwise, it’s a waste. In case you really want to feel the horror that Auschwitz was, you can always watch Jonathan Glazer’s masterful The Zone of Interest, which also came very recently and did the job without even showing anything. When we have something like that available that actually scares us to the bone, then why would we watch six hours of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which does absolutely nothing?

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Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra likes to talk about movies, music, photography, food, and football. He has a government job to get by, but all those other things are what keep him going.

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