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This is the second in a 3-part series of books about the Holocaust, based on the experiences of people who lived to tell their stories, and of others who did not make it: “The Tattooist of Auschwitz”, “Cilka’s Journey” and “Three Sisters”.

You may remember me mentioning Cilka in my previous review? A strong, independent and selfless friend of Lyle and Gita. The previous book, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, tells a lot about Cilka’s story, even though she is not the main character. It provides the first part of her journey to survive in a concentration camp, where the leader of the camp used her for all the pleasures he could think of. She was merely 16 years old and an innocent young girl. The higher her favour grew with this vile man, the more Cilka decided that she could use this to her friends’ advantage, and often shyly whispered requests for little favours in the ear of the Commandant. Though never for herself.

When the Nazis started fleeing, most of the healthy prisoners were set free. Children, the ill and then just Cilka were left in shacks. The Soviet Agency was tasked as counter-intelligence agents and called Cilka in for a meeting where they tried to determine what role she had played in the Auschwitz camp. All she could say was: “I tried to stay alive”. They were determined to convict her of working as a prostitute and spy, and sentenced her to 15 years’ hard labour. With no warning, she was loaded onto a train truck with other prisoners and taken to what she later came to know as Hell.

Here she yet again catches the eye of someone, this time a female doctor who takes her under her wing. This, however, is not the end of her struggles, but I will leave you to read this fascinating part of the book.

What is quite unique about Heather Morris’ writing style in this particular book, is that she inserted chapters of Cilka’s previous ordeal in the Auschwitz camp, which Cilka would refer to as “that place”. Those two words transport you directly into Cilka’s mind and soul and you realise the angst and distancing happening within her when she can’t even use the name of the place. Heather keeps the timelines, and the two parts of Cilka’s life, separate, in a very natural, logical manner. You are never left wondering: where are we now? (Like, for example, the kind of films my husband hates, which announce “Three months earlier”, then “Four years later”).

Just a last bit to entice you to read this book. Cilka once again becomes the object of a few men’s attention, which causes much strife, many injuries and close deaths. However, there was just one who captured her heart. Does this awful place allow them to be together? Especially after Cilka is sent away again! Where to now? Is she free, or on another train to her next nightmare? This is where I leave you with this review, except to say that once again, Heather Morris provides pages and pages of factual information about the individual, the geographical locations where the story takes place, and also, an afterword by someone close to the situation and people. This makes it impossible to deny the atrocities that happened, but also validates the beautiful narratives of survival, happiness and, especially, the preservation of hope and belief in a beautiful future. If only all the prisoners had been that lucky.

I look forward to reviewing the last book in this series called “Three Sisters” in our next Beloved Magazine.

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