Cilka's Journey, written by Heather Morris


Written as the sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Cilka's Journey is nothing short of pure, heart-breaking truth. Although this novel is incredibly sad and unfair, its message and memory is so important in today's society, and serves as a pertinent reminder of how cruel humanity can really be.


Although the date has recently passed, on 8th May 2020 we commemorated the 75th anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe Day). This date marked the finality of war as the second world war drew to an end. While we remember, and even celebrate the day, it is just as vital to reflect on all aspects of the horrors that this world war brought to the planet, and exactly how it changed humanity. As the years grow further apart from these historic events, such stories allow us, as the reader, to keep the truth alive.


Holocaust Literature is a genre that has developed over the past century; as soon as the survivors and victims found a voice to express their horrors, the genre became prolific. Filled with letters, post cards and telegrams, these forms of literature revealed the reality of the persecution of millions of Jews. Cilka's Journey holistically embodies so many of the unspeakable nightmares that millions unlawfully suffered during the Nazi reign. While The Tattooist of Auschwitz mainly focuses on life in the concentration camps, briefly touching on life before and after Hitler's time in power, Cilka's Journey intertwines Cilka's childhood memories, her deeply saddening recollection of time in "the other place", followed by the unfair prison sentence in Vorkuta. This novel serves as a way to keep these stories alive.


Although some elements of this story are fictional, Morris uses these to heighten the tragic experiences that Cilka and her fellow inmates had to endure on a daily basis during their time in the Gulag system. Unlike The Tattooist of Auschwitz, the sequel was created based on third party resources. Using public documents, interviews of the abuse in the Gulag, and Lale's own memories - which were also passed on through Gita - of Cilka's stories, Morris was able to craft the tale into something incredibly real and honest. It is also vital to note that many of these resources came to light years after the events had occurred. Many feared that their truth would not be believed. Incredibly similar during the persecution of Nazi soldiers and war criminals, many of the survivors didn't feel as though they had a voice. This becomes very apparent during Cilka's Journey through her persistent refusal to reveal the truth to her hut mates. Even her closest friend in the system - Morris doesn't allude to her being fact or fiction - never learns of Cilka's imprisonment in "the other place".


Arguably, Josie's character could have been used by Morris to truly highlight the conflicted feelings of those who had escaped persecution. After all, Cilka and Josie's characters appear to be very similar, so much so that Cilka actually sees her a slightly younger version of herself. Cilka and Josie were both sixteen when they faced time in their camps; both characters were inexperienced to their horrors and had attempted to find the positives in their situations. This leads to Josie's major character trait: she is incredibly naive. Throughout the novel, Josie brings an air of optimism which acts as a juxtaposition. The reader can't help but feel a sense of frustration with Josie, particularly when she considers Vadim and herself falling in love. This naivety allows Cilka to reflect on her role as a human being; she considers that she can no longer be loved or fall in love due to the reality of her situation, which is something that she tries to shelter from Josie. Morris may have used this as a metaphor to reflect the current affairs after the liberation of the camps. Josie's naivety symbolises millions of people that were unaware of the discrimination against the Jews; many people chose to turn a blind eye. While Cilka's attempt to shelter the truth from Josie also reveals protection. Although protection can be seen as a positive, in this type of literature it can symbolise a very negative state of mind, even alluding to discrimination. For example, during the holocaust, the majority of the world was unaware, or naive to what was happening in the camps. There are two reasons why this happened, the first is due to lack of knowledge, the second is because the truth was concealed. By protecting the public from the truth, it allowed the Nazis to continue the facade of an ideal society; a society that was entirely manufactured on one man's beliefs. Cilka's continuous attempt to conceal the truth from Josie may have highlighted the lies and brain washing that was fed to individuals across the world. This also ties in with the strict treatment of prisoners at the Gulag, who had often been forgotten about by society.


This novel also indicates an incredibly complex state of the human condition. The events that occurred during the holocaust, and during Hitler's time in power, shook society to the core. Many questions started to surface throughout society; it made people rethink the definition of humanity. However, it also brought forward a ruthlessness amongst human beings that is still prevalent to this day. As it has been apparent in other holocaust related fiction, many of the characters expressed an inability to share their past with those who have entered their lives, and are unable to be open about it as relationships develop. There is also a sense that the rest of the world would not be able to handle the truth about these persecutions, and there is also a real sense of fear that the survivors might not be believed.


Vergangenheitsbewältigung - a term to mean struggling to come to terms with, or process, the past - became increasingly prevalent in many pockets of society post-war. Although the term is not mentioned during the novel, it becomes apparent, through the narrative of Cilka's thought processes, that this was a particularly challenging time for many who had turned a blind eye. A character that is used to signal this is Hannah. She is used by Morris to display the direct aggression of Cilka's actions throughout Cilka's conscience. Although Hannah appears as thuggish and brutal - particularly when she blackmails Cilka for drugs in exchange for not revealing her past, it is possible that Morris uses this character as a way of showing how the protagonist's unconscious will not allow Cilka to suppress her past. Throughout the text, including the flashbacks to "the other place", there is frequent signposting to Cilka's time in the camps that means neither she, nor the reader can escape it. Therefore, the main character of this story is unable to deal with Vergangenheitsbewältigung. As Hannah continues to pose a threat towards Cilka it serves as a stark reminder that Cilka will never escape her past. The willingness from Hannah to exploit Cilka in her situation, also draws a connection to Cilka's time at the Gulag, as though Cilka can no longer express what she believes to be immoral and unfair and must deal with the consequences of her past. Unfortunately, this creates a greater sense of melancholy throughout the story, which helps the reader to somewhat identify with Cilka's frustrations and troubles. In reality, neither the reader, nor the author, will have the full grasp on Cilka's truth, particularly as Cilka was not able to personally voice this horrendous part of her life.


The heart-break and inner turmoil is prevalent throughout Cilka's Journey and serves as a reminder to us on the cruelty of humankind. For the sake of keeping the story alive, it is important that as many of us as possible read and digest this narrative. It is a phenomenal read that should not be forgotten and discarded.