Title: Cilka’s Journey
Author: Heather Morris
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Publication Date: 1st October 2019
n 1942 Cilka Klein is just sixteen years old when she is taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. The Commandant at Birkenau, Schwarzhuber, notices her long beautiful hair, and forces her separation from the other women prisoners. Cilka learns quickly that power, even unwillingly given, equals survival.
After liberation, Cilka is charged as a collaborator by the Russians and sent to a desolate, brutal prison camp in Siberia known as Vorkuta, inside the Arctic Circle. Innocent, imprisoned once again, Cilka faces challenges both new and horribly familiar, each day a battle for survival. Cilka befriends a woman doctor, and learns to nurse the ill in the camp, struggling to care for them under unimaginable conditions. And when she tends to a man called Alexandr, Cilka finds that despite everything, there is room in her heart for love.
Based on what is known of Cilka Klein’s time in Auschwitz, and on the experience of women in Siberian prison camps, Cilka’s Journey is the breathtaking sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz was one of my favourite books of last year and Cilka, a side character in Lale’s story, is someone who I instantly wanted to know more about. She is sent to Auschwitz at age 16 and is set apart by one of the commandants because of her beauty. She is abused by this monster during her time at the concentration camp and anyone who classifies what she went through as anything other than rape is frankly wrong. However after the Soviets have liberated the camp, Cilka is arrested and charged as a Nazi collaborator. She is then sent to a prison camp in Siberia. Even though I knew this is what happened to her, I was still in shock. It is such a horrendous miscarriage of justice that a teenager – who did nothing other than survive in one of the most horrific places in human history – could possibly be called anything other than a very brave woman. It makes me genuinely angry and from the first page I was willing Cilka to survive.
The author tells us at the start of the book that it is a work of fiction based upon what she has uncovered about the real Cilka. Whilst we obviously cannot know the exact way Cilka’s day to day life unfolded, I think her strength and resilience is undeniable from what we do know. What Morris has done here is give Cilka’s story a humanity in a manner that makes it impossible not to root for her to escape her disgracefully unjust circumstances.Throughout the book I just kept marvelling at her ability to maintain her dignity and generosity in any situation, no matter how terrible. She manages to help so many others and yet doesn’t seem to recognise her own innate goodness. I think books like this often make the reader consider how they would react if they were in that situation and I can’t even begin to comprehend how I would survive.
Cilka’s Journey is not a cheerful book. It couldn’t possibly be, given the subject matter. However, it is never depressing or without some form of hope. It is a book that truly demonstrates the strength of human connection and the importance of small kindnesses in brutal conditions. If you loved The Tattooist of Auschwitz then you will love Cilka’s Journey too, and I’m sure new readers will be just as affected by this remarkable story.
I received this e-arc through Netgalley. My review is my own honest opinion.