Cilka­’s Journey

  • Review
By – May 7, 2020

The award win­ning Aus­tralian nov­el­ist, Heather Mor­ris, author of the mul­ti­mil­lion best sell­er, The Tat­tooist of Auschwitz, has now writ­ten a sec­ond novel.

Cilka­’s Jour­ney is the sto­ry of a six­teen-year-old Slo­va­kian Jew­ish girl who is deport­ed to Auschwitz-Birke­nau con­cen­tra­tion camp where she is sep­a­rat­ed from the oth­er Jew­ish girls in her con­voy. She is a stun­ning beau­ty and two senior SS offi­cers select­ed her from oth­er depor­tees, most of whom are gassed. The SS offi­cers use Cil­ka as a sex slave, com­fort woman,” for almost three years while she is in Auschwitz. In some ways Cilka­’s Jour­ney is a sequel to The Tat­tooist of Auschwitz. Some of the same fic­tion­al char­ac­ters, such as Lale the tat­tooist, appear in this lat­est book. Fem­i­nist his­to­ri­ans and oth­er schol­ars who are now exam­in­ing the fate of women in Auschwitz and oth­er con­cen­tra­tion camps will find Mor­ris’s new nov­el, par­tial­ly based on fact, to be illuminating.

Fol­low­ing the Russ­ian lib­er­a­tion of Auschwitz in Jan­u­ary 1945, Cil­ka is arrest­ed by the Sovi­et Secret Police and is charged with col­lab­o­ra­tion for sleep­ing with and accept­ing favors from the senior SS offi­cers. Tried and con­vict­ed, Cil­ka is sen­tenced to fif­teen years of hard labor at a Siber­ian slave labor camp, just twen­ty-five miles south of the Arc­tic Cir­cle. At Vorku­ta, the most harsh and dan­ger­ous camp in the Sovi­et gulag, Cilka­’s luck holds out. She sur­vives anoth­er eight years by learn­ing to be a nurse respon­si­ble for var­i­ous duties such as surgery, emer­gency ambu­lance runs, burn treat­ments and oth­er med­ical assistance.

Cil­ka sur­vives both camps out of pure strength and a will to live. This is a sto­ry that res­onates, feels accu­rate, and suc­ceeds as his­tor­i­cal fiction.

Carl J. Rheins was the exec­u­tive direc­tor emer­i­tus of the YIVO Insti­tute for Jew­ish Research. He received his Ph.D. in Mod­ern Euro­pean His­to­ry from the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York at Stony Brook and taught cours­es on the Holo­caust at sev­er­al major universities.

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