My Tattooist of Auschwitz Lesson

A petite mother of 4 from Eastern Europe prompted me to write this article.

I have been meaning, for some time, to write about the benefits to be derived from reading books.

I am a voracious reader and always have at least two books on the go-one on my Kindle and one audiobook on my Audible app.

Until I met Kasia I was going to argue that one of the great benefits of reading is you can learn from the mistakes, learnings, and experience of others. Others who may have had completely different experiences, or others who had similar experiences to you, or who had trod a path you wish to travel on.

The lessons you can learn from great historical figures, from autobiographies of men and women who have fought and won and lost great struggles, from ordinary people who have faced and fought enormous personal challenges, from geniuses, from deeply flawed individuals are of immense value.

Starting a business, a political movement, trying to effect change, change the law, practice law-no matter what your task of passion is you can learn from the mistakes of the others. The others who walked that path before you.

Back to Kasia, though.

I am listening to the Tattooist of Auschwitz on Audible at the moment. It is a fabulous, uplifting, inspiring true story of a Jewish man, Lale Sokolov from Slovakia, who was forced to work as the Tattooist in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the second world war.

What is inspiring about the book is the number of incidences of people showing kindness and love to their fellow inmates in the most appalling circumstances you could possibly imagine. It is difficult not to imagine yourself in such a situation and wondering whether you would behave with the same dignity and nobility and kindness as some of the characters, including Lale, in the book.

I will never have to worry about the answer to this question, thankfully.

But it was a question that was in the back of my mind when Kasia came into my office unannounced. She wanted help with an application to the Student Universal Support Ireland [SUSI] on behalf of one of her children.

My first reaction was to tell her she needed an appointment.

But my next reaction was to ask ‘what would Lale do in this situation?’ What was that I read in the Tattooist about Lale trading jewellery and cash taken from dead prisoners sent to the gas chambers for food which he then distributed to the most needy.

And the answer was obvious: he would have helped her.

I’m glad to say I did, too. I’m no angel, no Mother Teresa but I was pleased I did the right thing. I tried to help her.

It turned out her husband had left her, and she was looking after the children on her own. And the first child had done well enough in the leaving certificate to be awarded a place in third level education. She needed help with the SUSI grant.

You can find many things in books: lessons, truth, ugliness, beauty. The reasons for reading books on a consistent basis are, to my mind, so self-evident as to not warrant explanation.

But listening to the Tatooist of Auschwitz and Kasia walking into my office in the same week gave me another illustration, if any was needed, of the stunning power of books and the lessons to be learned if you are open to them.  

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