The TV adaptation of the 2018 Holocaust bestseller “The Tattooist of Auschwitz,” an unlikely tale of two Jewish prisoners falling in love in the concentration camp, is coming to Peacock this spring, and stills from the show offer a haunting first look.
In the newly released stills, we can see Harvey Keitel as an older Lali Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who was given the task of tattooing other Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz, walking around Melbourne, his own tattooed serial number clearly visible. Alongside him is Melanie Lynskey (“Yellowjackets,” “The Last of Us”) as the author of the novel, Heather Morris, who met with Lali in his home in Melbourne for three years before his death in 2006 to capture his story.
Jonah Hauer-King (“The Little Mermaid”) plays young Sokolov in Auschwitz, where he meets the love of his life, Gita Furman, played in the series by Polish actress Anna Próchniak. One of the first stills of the show is their first meeting, with a haunted Hauer-King holding the needle he used for tattooing prisoners (only prisoners sent to work in the camp were given numbers).
The series is set to premiere in the U.S. on Peacock on May 2, 2024, and on Sky Atlantic and NOW in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Its six episodes were directed by acclaimed Israeli film director Tali Shalom-Ezer (“Surrogate,” “Princess,” “My Days of Mercy”) and feature music from Academy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer.
Zimmer has a personal connection to the Holocaust. Growing up in Germany, his Jewish mother survived the Holocaust by escaping to London in 1939. Afterwards, she was reticent to identify herself and her family as Jewish.
“Quite honestly, I think my parents were always wary of me telling the neighbors,” Zimmer told the Jewish Journal in 2014. “There was always still that cloud, and I felt it.”
It’s been half a decade that the show has been in development, and executive producer Claire Mundell shared in a statement that she was “struck by how the book became a bestseller during a time when awareness of the Holocaust was in decline. Our series tells one man’s story and experience of Auschwitz and how he found love in the darkest of places. It is a story that is as important today as it ever was.”
She also knew that Jewish actor Jonah Hauer-King would be perfect for the role of young Lali, while Harvey Keitel joining the cast was “a dream come true.”
Mundell praised Keitel’s commitment and authenticity in approaching the role, which she says was “breath-taking to watch.” She also stressed how important it was to the team to cast Jewish actors in that main role, actors who are “able to deliver the part with nuance, empathy, compassion and the complexity that we need from that character.”
This isn’t Hauer-King’s first Jewish role — he’s played Jewish violinist Dovidl Rappaport in the biopic “The Song of Names,” and he’s also no stranger to WWII projects, having played Harry Chase, a British interpreter who works at the Warsaw British embassy in the series “World on Fire,” as well as a young man who gets deported to the gulag in the film “Ashes in the Snow.”
Back in May of 2023, Hauer-King talked about his experience working on “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” with W Magazine. “It was a surreal experience, having your head shaved every day and putting on that prison uniform and going to an Auschwitz set,” he said.
Hauer-King, whose Polish Jewish grandfather escaped the continent in the 1930s and fled to Canada, and who eventually served in the Air Force in WWII, felt that it was important to do the role and this story justice.
“Because of my own personal connections to that time, it just felt impossible for it not to be hugely impactful and draining,” he said.
Just like Hauer-King, Keitel has deep Jewish roots. Born in 1939, in the eve of WWII, he was raised in Coney Island by Jewish immigrant parents from Poland and Romania who ran a luncheonette. He married his wife, Canadian-Jewish actress and director Dafna Katsner, in Jerusalem in 2001 and followed the ceremony with a visit to the Western Wall. The celebrated actor, known for his roles in Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson movies, has played many Jewish roles, including Harry Houdini, mobsters Mickey Cohen and Meyer Lansky, and one SS officer in “The Grey Zone,” which also takes place in Auschwitz and tells the story of the Jewish Sonderkommando.
Actor Jonas Nay, who most recently played Jewish German author Walter Mehring in “Transatlantic,” stars in the show as Auschwitz guard Stefan Baretzki.
The book the show is based on has been mired in controversy for containing some glaring inaccuracies and even for mispelling Lali’s nickname as Lale. Director Shalom-Ezer shared that she has tried her best to accurately portray the concentration camp and Lali’s story, visiting Auschwitz with the team and acknowledging the challenges that lie in telling a tale like this.
Ultimately, “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” is a love story set in a concentration camp, and recreating it on the screen in a way that is both believable and touching will take sensitivity and skill.
“I pray that we will be able to make viewers around the world believe in the wonderful love story of Lali and Gita,” Shalom-Ezer shared.