Cilka’s Journey - Heather Morris
Reading Challenge Category: Free ARC from NetGalley
'She was the bravest person I ever met' Lale Sokolov, The Tattooist of Auschwitz
In 1942 Cilka Klein is just sixteen years old when she is taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. The Commandant at Birkenau, Schwarzhuber, 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 Alexandr, 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 it will also leave you astonished and uplifted by one woman's fierce determination to survive, against all odds.
I have no words. I am heartbroken, overwhelmed and destroyed by this story. What Cilka had to endure is beyond inhumane. No person should have to see or suffer the things she had to, never mind a sixteen-year-old girl. She had the best years of her life stolen from her. This story encapsulates her story beautifully. As soon as I started to read, I was moved to tears, and there were numerous times throughout the book where I just had to put it down as I just couldn’t bear the cruelty any longer. Heather Morris has done a wonderful job of telling Cilka’s story, and I know some of the details are fabricated, but everything felt so starkly real. You fall in love with Cilka and with the other woman that she befriends in her hut. You feel her pain when she loses yet another person from her life, and you suffer with her when she is in anguish. I am really finding it difficult to comprehend that this is based on a true story, that these women were punished in such a horrific way. I know I said something similar after reading ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ that it is hard to imagine that these things did actually happen. This is what makes this story that more harrowing and distressing. Cilka did not deserve this ten-year punishment after all she had done to simply stay alive. She really did show herself to be a truly brave, strong and heroic person. I wished there had been a little more in the Epilogue about her life and who had been real and who hadn’t. Did she ever find Josie, or was she fabricated, I do hope not? I felt like I needed to just spend a little bit more time with Cilka in a more happy time and more pleasurable environment. I felt a sense of responsibility for her after reading her journey; I just needed to make sure she was ok. So a little longer an epilogue would have been greatly appreciated. This book, though, is a beautiful tribute to Cilka’s life and the horror she must have endured. I think this book will stay in my heart and with me for a long time to come.