Title/Author: Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris
In a nutshell (Publisher):
Her beauty saved her — and condemned her.
Cilka is just sixteen years old when she is taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in 1942, where the commandant immediately notices how beautiful she is. Forcibly separated from the other women prisoners, Cilka learns quickly that power, even unwillingly taken, equals survival.
When the war is over and the camp is liberated, freedom is not granted to Cilka: She is charged as a collaborator for sleeping with the enemy and sent to a Siberian prison camp. But did she really have a choice? And where do the lines of morality lie for Cilka, who was send to Auschwitz when she was still a child?
In Siberia, Cilka faces challenges both new and horribly familiar, including the unwanted attention of the guards. But when she meets a kind female doctor, Cilka is taken under her wing and begins to tend to the ill in the camp, struggling to care for them under brutal conditions.
Confronting death and terror daily, Cilka discovers a strength she never knew she had. And when she begins to tentatively form bonds and relationships in this harsh, new reality, Cilka finds that despite everything that has happened to her, there is room in her heart for love.
From child to woman, from woman to healer, Cilka’s journey illuminates the resilience of the human spirit—and the will we have to survive.
Verdict: An eye-opening read about hope and perseverance during one of the darkest times in history
My thoughts: This can be read as a stand-alone. You don’t have to read ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ to know Cilka’s back story as there’ll be flashbacks throughout the book.
After the camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated, Cilka was sent yet to another camp, this time Vortuka Gulag in Siberia, and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, after being accused of being a collaborator and ‘sleeping with the enemy.’ She was only 16!
Being a fast learner, she caught the attention of a doctor, who asked her to help out at the camp’s hospital. From there, she ‘worked her way up’ to the maternity ward, the nursery, and the ambulance, always helping, always finding ways to help.
However, after being put in a more ‘privileged’ position working in a hospital, she seems to neglect her own advice of staying invisible and out of trouble, jeopardizing her safety and life, just so she can continue to help and save lives.
When Cilka found her ‘purpose’ in prison, she found friendship, a new ‘family’ and love. But does she dare hope? Hope that she’d finally get out of prison and start her own family? Is it safe to love, not knowing her future?
Cilka’s strength is admirable. Her selflessness touched me. She persevered throughout the pain and torment she was put through, physically and mentally, at the same time, offering what she had left of herself to love and serve others. Prison camp can be a place where prisoners harbor ill-intent and jealousy towards each other. Despite their initial resentment, the women in Cilka’s unit came together and strengthened each other when things got rough and tough.
I squirmed when reading about the lengths that people go through to escape toiling the day with hard work like hurting themselves, swallowing things and ‘having their stomach cut open is seen as a better option than working.’ It’s painful and heartbreaking to even think about it.Tweet
Although the author didn’t go into detail the sufferings of the prisoners and the brutality of the gulag, and that there was more telling than showing in her writing, Cilka’s Journey was still an eye-opening read, and made me teary a few times. I won’t say more as I don’t want to give anything away.
BEFORE I FORGET: You must read the Afterword by Owen Matthews, in which he wrote in detail the hell that was Vorkuta.
Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Please share with me your thoughts!
Last but not least, thank you for stopping by and reading this review! And may the power of good reads be with you always!