In this follow-up to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, the author tells the story, based on a true one, of a woman who survives Auschwitz, only to find herself locked away again. Cilka Klein is 18 years old when Auschwitz-Birkenau is liberated by Soviet soldiers. But Cilka is one of the many women who is sentenced to a labor camp on charges of having helped the Nazis—with no consideration of the circumstances Cilka and women like her found themselves in as they struggled to survive. Once at the Vorkuta gulag in Sibera, where she is to serve her 15-year sentence, Cilka uses her wits, charm, and beauty to survive.
Please Note: While it goes without saying that many of the books I review contain content that may be disturbing to some, Cilka’s Journey contains themes that may be especially triggering - specifically rape and/or sexual abuse, extreme violence (domestic or otherwise). Please read at your own discretion.
From the Kiwi-born author of The Tattooist Of Auschwitz, Cilka’s Journey explores what happened to young Cecilia (Cilka) Klein, imprisoned in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp at the age of 16. Because of her young age and beauty, Cilka is singled out by a high-ranking SS officer, separated from the other prisoners, and is forced to endure their attention in order to survive.
When the Nazis flee and the allies appear, Cilka thinks her nightmare is over. Instead, her Russian liberators charge her as a collaborator and sentence her to hard labor in a Siberian Gulag.
We follow Cilka’s journey from liberation to re-imprisonment, navigating her new position in yet another strange and brutal place. Flashbacks provide us with insight into Cilka’s life before the Nazis, and her time in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
It’s important to remember that Cilka’s Journey, while based on a real person and actual events, is a work of fiction. Records are sparse, so liberties are taken to flesh out the story. But knowing that doesn’t stop Cilka’s plight from hitting you right in the feels. It goes beyond the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis and exposes some of the equally brutal ways many victims were treated after the end of the war. It’s a gut-wrenching read and, trust me, your emotions will be all over the place.
What I Loved: Heather Morris does a great job of drawing relatable characters, fleshing out their stories in a way that makes you connect with them. She’s also drawn attention to a part of that history that I had little to no knowledge of - that the Russians continued to victimize Holocaust survivors for the smallest reasons, ignoring the fact that they had no choice but to submit to their Nazi captors or face death. Through it all though, there are little glimpses of humanity and hope from unexpected quarters, and those little glimpses are everything.
What I Didn’t Love: I’m going to be brutally honest here. I am not a huge fan of Ms. Morris’s writing style. There’s no flowery prose or convoluted metaphors. It’s just plain and to the point. But, for this type of story, it works.
Conclusion: If you’ve read The Tattooist Of Auschwitz, Cilka’s Journey is a no-brainer. If you haven’t, Cilka’s Journey can be read standalone. Just have some tissues handy and be ready to throw the book down in disgust occasionally
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