Harvey Keitel, Jonah Hauer-King, Anna Prochniak, and Melanie Lynskey star in the Holocaust series, inspired by true events, debuting on Peacock TV.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)

Millions of people suffered horribly and then died. Two fell in love. This is their story.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz
The limited series debuts Thursday, May 2, exclusively on Peacock TV. I've seen all six episodes.

"Love blooms in a German concentration camp during World War II" sounds like an unlikely story, a pure fantasy concocted by a mentally-unbalanced person.

Yet this is the story that was told by Lali Sokolov to Heather Morris. Having recently lost Gita, his longtime wife, Lali wanted to tell his story; through a mutual friend, he got to know Heather, a health care worker and an aspiring writer, and their conversations, which began in 2003, eventually served as the inspiration for Morris' novel, which was first published in 2018.

Opening title cards make clear that the events were inspired by Lali's personal experiences and that 'some events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes.' Serving as one of the producers and writers is Australian screenwriter and producer Jacquelin Perske, whose credits include The New Legends of Monkey (2018), directed in part by Gerard Johnstone, an action-adventure fantasy series that I quite liked. This, though, is leagues away from that.

In Slovakia, Lali (Jonah Hauer-King) and his family have heard rumors about what is happening at the camp where he is being sent, but Lali chooses to believe that it won't be as bad as he fears, a belief that is quickly dispelled by the increasingly brutal treatment meted out to himself and every other Jew on the train and then at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they have been dispatched.

The first episode lays out these events in bracing, devastating detail. Presented in a respectful manner, it can't help but be infuriating and heartbreaking to watch the German guards execute prisoners on the spur of the moment and to see people treated as though they are not human, over and over and over again.

Frankly, I had to take a break before watching any more of the advance screeners that were kindly provided. 'Why would anyone want to binge this' crossed my mind more than once. In view of the subject matter, however, it feels necessary to watch, even though 'some events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes.' We can't just stick our heads in the sand and shy away from watching, because, even with the 'fictionalized' aspect, it's too important to dismiss out of hand.

All of us have different breaking points. We can only hope that we can hold onto our own personal definition of integrity and morality, come what may. For Lali, he accepted becoming a corroborator with the S.S. guards for the preservation of his own life.

True, he could have rejected the opportunity to become a tattooist, which meant that he got his own room, for protection from the other prisoners, and somewhat less harsh treatment from the guards, notably from Baretzki (Jonas Nay), a murderous sadist.

But then Lali would not have met Gita (Anna Prochniak), with whom he fell instantly in love, and she with him. This is the polar opposite of 'meet cute.'

From that point onward, the episodes steer between the highs of Lali and Gita's developing relationship and the lows of ever-increasing privation, agony, torture, and murder. What falls in between are scenes in which the 2003 version of Lali reflects on the horrors that he and Gita and many more endured, by relating the events to Heather.

To help the viewer get a potent sense of Lali's horrible memories, director Tali Shalom Ezer (Princess, 2014) punctuates every episode in the series by having characters who have been murdered smash the fourth wall by staring silently, yet directly, at the camera. It's disquieting and disturbing, as it should be.

Harvey Keitel and Melanie Linskey give measured, nuanced, textured, and altogether beautiful performances. Nearly all of their scenes are spent listening to each other talk, which doesn't sound dramatic in the least. Yet these conversations frame the series with compassion and empathy; they peer through the screen and into the soul as authentic souls, which invites introspection.

The dead bearing witness, as well as the high quality of the performances, easily lift the series into 'recommended' territory on their own merits. As a counter to that, the romantic storyline sometimes tumbles into queasiness, supporting the notion that such a love story minimizes the ongoing genocide. It's truly for each viewer to decide, based on their own level of tolerance.

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Anna ProchniakHarvey KeitelJonah Hauer-KingMelanie LynskeyPeacock TV

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