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.