Synopsis: Cilka was first introduced in Heather Morris’ previous novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. At the young age of 16 Cilka was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Post-war and liberation of the concentration camps, most survivors were sent to what were left of their homes and finally able to start new lives. Unfortunately for Cilka, her nightmare continued as she was shockingly sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in one of the coldest places on Earth due to her actions as a means of survival during her time at Auschwitz.
Rating: (4/5) ★★★★
Cilka, short for Cecilia Klein, is a young Jewish teenager who was transported from her hometown of Bardejov to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. During her time at the camp she was stripped of her innocence as she endured a series of hardships while being taken advantage of by the men running the camp. Cilka quickly finds that in order to survive the horror of her reality, she must submit and participate in unimaginable harsh acts that would eventually lead to her prolonged imprisonment. Once the camp was liberated she rejoiced, expecting to return to her hometown or starting a life anew. However, a few days later she finds herself being questioned and facing judgement regarding her involvements with the SS Personnel at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, resulting in 15 years sentence of hard-labor at a prison in Siberia.
Cilka’s character piqued my interest while reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz. She was clearly different from the rest of the girls as her beauty and uniqueness attracted unwanted attention. When I discovered that a second book was written by Heather Morris regarding the story of Cilka Klein, I knew that it would be my next read.
“Such a small space of time has passed, but the words have been so large”– Heather Morris, Cilka’s Journey
It isn’t uncommon to find myself drawn to the genre of historical fiction, especially when it has to do with the WWII era. Prior to reading Cilka’s Journey, I was unaware that some prisoners in the concentration camps, and even local residents around the camps, were “trialed” and sentenced to years of hard labor based on loose allegations. In the story, one character was sentenced due to selling bread to a German SS Officer, another because she did not know the whereabouts of her brother when questioned. With that being said, this was the first book I have read that allows readers to peek into what life may have been like for those imprisoned post-war liberation. I felt the author did a wonderful job of developing the scene within the prison located in Siberia. I could feel the coldest of days and yet a bit of warmth offered by a coal-burning oven in the hut that Cilka slept in along with her friends and fellow inmates. Along with the emotions brought on by blizzards, white nights, and even hints of spring. The author also developed the characters in a way that really exhibiting the bond and friendships that grew between all the woman as the years passed.
Overall, the novel was wonderfully written and captured a beautiful story of overcoming hardships, personal growth, selflessness and extreme compassion of the main character and for those around her. The main negative I found was at the beginning of the story. It started off a bit choppy in writing style and breaks. Then towards the middle of the book, I felt as if I was pushing through the story because the days started to seem redundant, but maybe that was the point. I enjoyed the ending of the book and was left wanting to know a bit more of Cilka’s life once she was finally released from the prison. I would recommend Cilka’s Journey to those interested in historical fiction, WWII fiction or Jewish fiction.