The story of Cecilia “Cilka” Klein that was teased in Heather Morris’ first novel, “The Tattooist of Auschwitz,” is told as a historical fiction in Morris’ follow-up, “Cilka’s Journey.” The story recounts Cilka’s tale of survival and love from the horrifying conditions of Auschwitz Birkenau, where senior Nazi SS officers routinely raped her to being the head of a camp for sick and dying prisoners headed for the gas chamber where the Nazi murdered millions of Jews.
From that 3-year nightmare, Cilka is charged by the conquering Soviet army as a Nazi “sympathizer” because of her “jobs” in the concentration camp. Cilka is sentenced to fifteen years in a Siberian gulag for her “crimes.” Morris writes the novel as nonfiction, however, because of a need to fill in gaps for incomplete data gathered from her research, she classifies the novel as a historical fiction. She brings the historical accounts of Cilka and the varying challenges she must face to life in her novel. From blackmail by fellow prisoners in her hut to routine rape by male captors in the gulags.
One of the most compelling aspects of the book that Morris brings to life is the feelings of shame, the feelings of anger from helplessness, the feelings of injustice that a place like the gulag brings to the surface. Cilka’s story of survival and finding love is a story of hope. It is a story of never losing hope despite the terrifying and inhumane conditions that she finds herself in. It is a story of doing what you can just to live another day by refusing to give in and give up. It is a story of persistence against all odds.
I recommend this novel to everyone. I think anything people can do to become more aware of the past and some of the horrible ways people have treated one another benefits everyone else. Instead of turning a blind eye, or denying something happened, it is better to learn and empathize with them. Take time to learn and grow from the mistakes and wrongs from history and in that way we have a chance to not let history repeat itself.
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