A Lesson in Hope – The Tattooist of Auschwitz

A Lesson of Hope

A Lesson in Hope – The Tattooist of Auschwitz

In the middle of the year, within a relatively short space of time, I had two people say to me, “I think you’d like the book, The Tattooist of Auschwitz”. Within two weeks of the second mention of that book, I saw that book – at my mother-in-law’s place. Well, when something pops up multiple times on my radar, I figure I need to take note. So, I knew it was time to read this book! Fortunately, my mother-in-law was happy for me to take it home for a read.

Well, it is quite the story! The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on the interviews between the author, Heather Morris, and an elderly man, Lale. Lale was born Ludwig Eisenberg, who, during his time in Auschwitz, had the role of Tätowierer. As you would expect of a story about Auschwitz, much of it is truly horrendous. There was the complete obliteration of human rights, deprivation of food and liberties, the inhumanity of brutality and cruelty, callous dehumanisation, endless uncertainty, and of course death – lots of death. The mind shudders to think how someone could even conceive of such an idea, let alone give it the light of day.

However, what was unexpected was the story of enduring hope (and there’s also an unexpected yet beautiful love story, too). I knew as I was reading that the main character, Lale, must have survived since he had lived to tell his story to the author. However, as his SS minder had said, he must have been a cat because he just seemed to have so many lives. So many times, he was so close to death. Each time, he survived.

Back to the story of hope. Lale and his fellow train companions had no idea what was awaiting them at the end of their journey. Pause for a moment as you consider that this was a time of no smartphones and no instantaneous access to news of the world. Outside these remote camps, it wasn’t widely known what fate awaited those who were destined to arrive. When Lale arrived, it was in the early days of the concentration camps. At the time he entered Auschwitz, Lale fairly quickly sensed this was not going to be over any time soon. Lale was multi-lingual and as he walked through the open iron gates he looked up to read the sign Arbeit Macht Frei, ‘work will make you free’. As his first day in this living hell draws to a close, he makes a commitment to himself, “I will live to leave this place. I will walk out a free man.

Lale held onto that commitment and the vision that he would walk out of that place, see his family again, get married, have children, and have a good life no matter what his current circumstances. His sense of hope – that vision he held onto so clearly – for a better future was remarkable given the horrendous conditions he endured for over three years. Each day with the uncertainty of not knowing what would happen nor how long he would be there, he shone a light to his vision of a better future. He was a very resourceful young man. In his later life, he knew that his story had to be shared so that this never happens again. 

The science of hope, pioneered at The University of Kansas by Rick Snyder and his graduate student Shane Lopez, has three main components:

i. Goal – a vision of a future that is better than our present.
ii. Agency – belief in ourselves that we can make that better future a reality.
iii. Pathways – that we are willing to take as many pathways as required to make that a
better reality.

If plan A hits a brick wall, then move onto plan B. Lale was a master at working multiple pathways!! We can conveniently think of those three steps by the acronym they form: GAP. Hope is about closing the gap between our current reality and that vision we see of our better future.

Holding onto hope no matter what, for however long it takes, is a key to getting through difficult and uncertain times. Lale had hope in abundance – in every chapter of his life in Auschwitz. As the author wrote in the postscript, “Lale lived his life by the motto: ‘If you wake up in the morning, it is a good day.”

If you are reading this, it is a good day! How can you close the gap and build a little more hope into your life, today?

Click here for course info

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