Like many others, I was fascinated by Heather Morris’ book, The Tattooist of Auschwitz about Lale Sokolov. During their time together, Mr. Sokolov told Heather Morris that Cilka Klein “was the bravest person” he ever met and said she was the person who saved his life. In their conversations Ms. Morris learned that Cilka, a very beautiful young girl of 16, was imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau and only survived by allowing herself to be repeatedly raped by two senior SS officers. The first part of her story is mentioned in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. In the epilogue the author states she received many inquiries as to what happened to Cilka. This novel is the answer to that question. While one would not need to read The Tattooist of Auschwitz prior to reading this book, I think would be helpful.
This novel starts right after Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is liberated by the Soviets. Cilka is immediately convicted, without a trial, of working with the enemy, as a prostitute and additionally as a spy . Her punishment is to be further imprisoned for fifteen years in the coldest place on earth, Vorkuta Gulag.
Cilka is a fascinating character. She is smart, loyal, and generous. She is befriended by a kind female physician, who allows Cilka to train as a nurse. Cilka is able to improve the condition of the nursery, and is a comfort to many people. She is brave and often entered dangerous situations as a member of the ambulance crew. Cilka was human too, often entering into dark periods because of the hopelessness she often found herself in. She lives with the guilt of her time at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Heather Morris has done a fantastic job of historical research to show us the horrendous conditions of the Vorkuta Gulag, where Trustees ruled in gangs, raped as many women prisoners as they pleased, and tormented the staff.
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy of this book that will be released on October 1, 2019. 5 stars.