5 resilient stars
“I was forced, I was raped! No! Please.”
I have read and loved The Tattooist of Auschwitz where I’ve been first introduced to Cilka.
When I learned there was a book about her, I thought we would have the same story but from her POV with a different storyline.
Never had I imagined that we would have the “after” and that the “after” would be nearly as harsh as what Cilka faced in Auschwitz!
This is a story of violence and brutality. This is a story of unfairness, of all the shades of grey between right and wrong. This is a story of punishment, of abuse. And this is a story of survival, of resilience. It’s a story of making the most of a situation with one goal: survive. It’s the life story of a Czech girl sent to Auschwitz at sixteen, noticed for her beauty by the SS officers and abused by them just to be sent to a Siberian work camp once the war was over.
That’s right, you’ve read it correctly.
When all Auschwitz and Birkenhau’s survivors were freed, Cilka was imprisoned, sentenced to serve fifteen years in Siberia, in the coal mines.
I was … dumbfounded and speechless.
Knowing that this is a true story, knowing that at sixteen you let the enemy rape you to avoid death just to end up being judged as a traitor and sent in another prison… that was so UNFAIR!
I can’t fathom how Cilka survived that hell. How she managed to survive not only Auschwitz but also Siberian camps where she will be defiled by men yet again.
Where did her enormous strength come from????
“To have lost everything. To have had to endure what she has endured, and be punished for it. How can she go on? How can she work for a new enemy? Live to see the women around her tire, starve, diminish, die. But she – she WILL live. She does not know why she has always been sure of that, why she feels he can persist but she can.
It is fire then that keeps her going. But it is also a curse. It makes her stand out, be singled out. She must contain it, control it, direct it.
I read about Cilka’s days in Birkenhau thanks to flashbacks. Most of this story is set in Siberia but I learned more about what she had to do to survive the Nazis. I learned about the enormous guilt that she carried. Guilt as she had survived while so many others had not.
Her “curse” as she felt that everyone close to her just died. That she carried death.
“I am cursed. Everyone around me dies or is taken away. It is not safe to be near me.”
When Cilka arrives in Siberia, she’ll be put in a hut with other women and it will be prison’s life once more. With the brutality. With the blackmail. With the hierarchy among inmates. Avoiding the most dangerous ones, trying, without luck, to go unnoticed. Drawing men’s attention once again and using it to get protected and avoid gang rape.
Because rape was common, not only for Cilka but for all these other women.
And I RAGED. As a woman, I know that rape is the oldest weapon used by men. It happened for millenia and it is still happening.
It was really heartbreaking to read her enduring all this again, to witness Cilka becoming numb. Slowly diving into depression.
“For the first time in many years she has allowed herself to be dragged down by the enormity of what she has seen, heard, and done -or not done-herself. What she no longer has and what she can never long for. It is like an avalanche -there seems no way now of holding it at bay.”
But there is still hope and kindness in this story.
When Cilka crosses path with a female doctor, Yelena , she will be offered the opportunity to train as a nurse. Finally, Cilka can save people instead of watching them die.
This ray of sunshine will be Cilka’s salvation. She’ll put all her might and brilliant brain to embrace the nursing work. She’ll be able to help others. Cilka is always the first to plunge into danger to save victims in the mines.
I could not say it better than what’s on the cover “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”.
Have you read that book? Or the Tattooist of Auschwitz?
Thanks for reading!