Auschwitz-Birkenau-EQUIPMENT

The tattoer in Auschwitz.

On Frontpage: Only prisoners at Auschwitz and its sub-camps, Birkenau and Monowitz, were tattooed with prisoner numbers on their arms. Ludvig was made the main tattooist, the tetovierer, of the death camp - and who could believe that true love stories actually became true in such a death camp..

Partly because of his skills with languages - he knew Slovakian, German, Russian, French, Hungarian and a bit of Polish - Ludvig was made the main tattooist, the tetovierer, of the death camp. He was given a bag full of tattooing supplies and a paper bearing the words: Politische Abteilung. Ludvig now worked for the Political Wing of the SS. An officer was assigned to monitor him, which gave him a semblance of protection.





When the Nazis came to his hometown, Ludvig had offered himself as a strong, able-bodied young man in the hope that it would save the rest of his family from being split up. Unlike his siblings, he was unemployed and unmarried.

At that time, he did not know of the horrors that went on at the camp in occupied south-west Poland.

On arrival, the Nazis exchanged his name for a number: 32407.

Prisoner number 32407 was set to work like many others, constructing new housing blocks as the camp expanded.

In April 1942, aged 26, Ludvig was taken to Auschwitz, the Nazis' biggest death camp.

He spent hours working on the rooftops, keeping a low profile from the SS guards and their unpredictable tempers.

But shortly after he arrived at Auschwitz, Ludvig contracted typhoid.

He was cared for by the man who had given him his identification tattoo, a French academic named Pepan.

Pepan took Ludvig under his wing and set him to work as his assistant. He taught him not only the trade, but how to keep his head down and his mouth shut.

Then one day Pepan disappeared, shipped out. Ludvig would never find out what happened to him.

Partly because of his skills with languages - he knew Slovakian, German, Russian, French, Hungarian and a bit of Polish - Ludvig was made the main tattooist, the tetovierer, of the death camp.

He was given a bag full of tattooing supplies and a paper bearing the words: Politische Abteilung.

Ludvig now worked for the Political Wing of the SS. An officer was assigned to monitor him, which gave him a semblance of protection.

As the tetovierer, Ludvig lived a step further away from death than the other prisoners.





He ate in an administration building. He was given extra rations. He slept in a single room. When his work was done, or when there were no new prisoners to tattoo, he was allowed free time.

"[Josef] Mengele, in particular, was a common sight as he chose his 'patients' from the new arrivals, sending them Ludvig's way,"

"On many occasions while whistling an operatic tune, he would sidle up to Lale and loudly terrorise him: 'One day, tetovierer, I will take you - one day.'"

For the next two years, Ludvig would tattoo hundreds of thousands of prisoners, with the help of assistants.

These forced tattoos, the numbers shaky and stark against pale forearms, have become one of the most recognisable symbols of the Holocaust and its deadliest camp.

Only prisoners at Auschwitz and its sub-camps, Birkenau and Monowitz, were tattooed.

The practice began in autumn 1941 and by the spring of 1943, all prisoners were tattooed.

As the tetovierer, Ludvig lived a step further away from death than the other prisoners.

He ate in an administration building. He was given extra rations. He slept in a single room. When his work was done, or when there were no new prisoners to tattoo, he was allowed free time.

Despite his privileges, the threat of not waking up the next day was ever present.

For the next two years, Ludvig would tattoo hundreds of thousands of prisoners, with the help of assistants.

These forced tattoos, the numbers shaky and stark against pale forearms, have become one of the most recognisable symbols of the Holocaust and its deadliest camp.






Only prisoners at Auschwitz and its sub-camps, Birkenau and Monowitz, were tattooed.

The practice began in autumn 1941 and by the spring of 1943, all prisoners were tattooed.

At first, a metal stamp was used to imprint the entire number into the skin. Ink was rubbed into the wound.

When this method proved inefficient, the SS introduced a twin-needle device.

That was the tool Ludvig used during his time as tattooist.
,





When prisoners arrived at Auschwitz, they were selected either for forced labor or immediate execution.

Their heads were shaved, their belongings taken.

They exchanged their clothes for rags, and then lined up to receive their mark from the tetovierer.

The only exceptions to this branding were the "re-education" prisoners of German ethnic origin and those sent directly to the gas chambers.

It was the final peg in the brutal "registration" process, says Dr Piotr Setkiewicz, head of the research centre at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.





"It was one thing in a series of humiliating, dehumanising things that happened on arrival to the camp.

"First it was painful, and second they understood at this moment they were losing their names. From this time on, the prisoners did not use officially their names. They had to use their numbers."

Prisoner 34902

It's July 1942 and Ludvig is handed another piece of paper. In front of him are five digits:
3 4 9 0 2.

Tattooing men is one thing, but when he holds the thin arm of a young girl in his hands, he feels horrified.

He has not yet been made the tetovierer. Pepan urges him to do as he's told. If he doesn't, he will condemn himself to death.

There is something about this girl and her bright eyes.

Years later, Ludvig, tells, how in that moment, as he tattooed her number on her left arm, she tattooed her number in his heart.

He learned that her name was Gita - she was in the women's camp, Birkenau.

With the help of Ludvig's personal SS guard, he would smuggle letters to her. Letters led to secretive visits outside her block.

He tried to take care of her, sneaking her his extra rations, even getting her moved to a better work station. He tried to give her hope.

"Gita, she had her doubts, very strong doubts."

"She didn't see a future. He always, deep down, knew that he was going to survive. He didn't know how, but it comes back to that whole notion of being a survivor. He's a survivor because of luck, being in the right place at the right time, and being able to manipulate opportunities that he saw."

Knowing he was one of the lucky ones, Ludvig tried to help as many fellow prisoners as he could in his capacity as tetovierer.

Food was the currency of Auschwitz, and he used his privileged rations to feed his former blockmates, Gita's friends, and the Roma families that arrived later on.

He began trading jewels and money - given to him by other prisoners - with the villagers who worked near the camp to obtain more food and provisions for the most needy.






In 1945, the Nazis began shipping prisoners out of the death camp before the Russians arrived. Gita was one of the women selected to leave Auschwitz.

The woman he had fallen in love with was gone. Lale knew only her name - Gita Fuhrmannova - but not where she had come from.

Ludvig eventually also left the camp and made his way back to his hometown of Krompachy in Czechoslovakia.

He paid his way with the jewels he'd managed to steal from the Nazis. His sister Goldie had survived and so his childhood house still belonged to his family.

The only thing left was to find out what happened to Gita. Could he dare to hope that he would ever find her again?

In a horse and cart, he set off for Bratislava, the entry point for many survivors returning home to Czechoslovakia. Ludvig waited at the railway station for weeks, until the stationmaster advised him to go to the Red Cross instead.

On his way there, a young woman stepped into the street in front of his horse. It was a familiar face. A pair of bright eyes.

Gita had found him.







The couple married in October 1945 and changed their last name to Sokolov to better fit into Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia. Ludvig set up a textile shop that was successful for a time.

But they had been collecting and sending money out of the country to support the movement for an Israeli state.

When the government discovered this, Ludvig was imprisoned and his business nationalised.

It was while on weekend leave that he and Gita made their escape from Czechoslovakia.

They went first to Vienna, then Paris, and finally, in an effort to get as far away from Europe as they could, set sail for Sydney. During the journey, they met a couple from Melbourne and were convinced to start a new life there.





Ludvig started a textile business again, and Gita began designing dresses. In 1961, they had a son, Gary.

Old Nazi documents led to the discovery that Ludvig's parents had been killed at Auschwitz a month before he arrived.

Ludvig died in 2006, before he learned what happened to his parents.

Regarding other documents, one was discovered with Ludvig's name and number in a list with other prisoners.






"The top of the document says Politische Abt - Aufnhmershreiber, Pramienauszahlung vom 26.7.44, which translates to - Political Wing Admittance Writer,"





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