Cilka’s Journey – Book Review

  • Author – Heather Morris
  • Publisher – Bonnier Zaffre Ltd
  • Pages – 400
  • Subjects #fiction #History #Holocaust

In 1942 Cilka Klein is just sixteen years old when she is taken to Auschwitz – Birkenau concentration camp. The commandant of Birkenau, Shwarzhuber, 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 Alexander, Cilka finds that despite everything, there is room in her heart for love.

Cilka’s journey is a powerful testament to the triumph of the human will. It will move you to tears, but will also leave you astonished and uplifted by one woman’s fierce determination to survive.

The sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz. At the end of the first book, we were left very uplifted and happy that Lale and Gita had not only managed to escape the Birkenau concentration camp but they also managed to find each other and live the happy ever after they always wanted too..,. So naturally when this book was released I couldn’t wait to pick it up. We didn’t really hear too much of Cilka in the first book, just a general overview of who she was and what she did for work, unfortunately Cilka didn’t get her happy ending when her friends Lale and Gita did and found herself being interviewed by the Russians and then imprisoned in their camp for prostituting… I was completely outraged at this and made me personally feel like the Russians were no better than the Germans because they didn’t care about the circumstances of Cilka, it just was what it was and she had to pay the price for this. My heart really did feel for Cilka after everything she had been through, she had to now endure another fifteen years of this for no fault of her own, for just wanting to survive, the Vortuka camp being no better than the Birkenau camp and I found myself cringing with the description of how they shaved down the women from head to toe upon arrival.

As in the Birkenau camp, all prisoners were assigned jobs and the labour given to the women was hard manual labour. Cilka was given a golden opportunity to work in the hospital wing of the camp when she took a friend there and it made me feel so sad that she was very reluctant to take this due to the guilt she would feel that the other girls in her hut still had to work outside and they would no doubt feel hatred towards her. It was at this point when I saw that Cilka was a special character, she was living under horrendous conditions and just wanted to survive like the rest but she still had her heart in the right place and cared for the others feelings before her own. Not long after working here she found herself working in the maternity ward helping to deliver the babies born, this almost brought me to tears, Reading of how the women would have to give birth to a child after being impregnated by an officer who abused them, they would then be moved to the nursery for two years with a job in administration before then being moved back to the normal living conditions there when the baby would be taken away and they would then have to go back to their old job and no doubt soon be back again after again being abused by the guards. The woman seemed to be able to deal with this incredibly in their own way … how they managed to be so strong I will never know. The only exception in this was Cilka’s best friend in the camp Josie who wanted to keep her child and thought that she could have a life after the camp with her abuser Vadim, this made me realise just how much living in a place like this could really mess with your head, being a young girl and having your first experiences with a man being an abusive one. I really really felt for Josie at this point and I could honestly not imagine how that could feel….

It wasn’t long after this, that we find out just how big Cilka’s heart really is and she shows herself as a true hero when she is offered the chance of her freedom after saving the commanders daughter twice and his wife tells her she will help her, but Cilka refuses and asks if instead she can help her friend Josie out as her daughter is due to turn two and they will be separated. This was an incredible moment for me, and I actually had to stop reading and sit back at this point and really appreciate what I had just read, because I doubt a lot of other people in the same position would have done the same.

Luckily enough it wasn’t long till Cilka found some happiness of her own when she met a boy, she cared for him in the hospital and he fell in love with her, not long after this Cilka found herself with her own freedom, released early and not only had she been released but on the train to home she found her love had also been released, a true love story ending, getting out of hell and finding a happy ever after she never thought would come.

Another, and probably one of the best happy parts of this book, was when it was told that the SS guard from back in the Birkenau concentration camp had not only been trialed for what happened but either imprisoned or executed for what they put thousands and thousands through. I doubt this will give those who survived this horrific time any kind of justice for what they went through but I personally am just glad that karma caught up with them for what they put all those people through.


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