Having read the Tattooist of Auschwitz and Three Sisters, by the same author, I was keen to read what is the second book in the trilogy depicting life in Auschwitz – Birkenau. The story, like the others is a bleak one. Based on the true story of Cilka Klein, who was taken to the camp at just sixteen years of age, spotted by the camp commandant because of her striking beauty and kept as his personal play thing.
She endured three years in the infamous death camp and is shocked, one morning, to discover the German guards gone and Russian soldiers in the camp. She quickly realises that they have come to liberate the prison.
Her joy soon turns to misery when they interview her and find that, she has been fraternising with the Germans. Unlike the others in the camp she was well fed, dressed in good clothes but her desire to survive meant she did what she was told.
“Cilka herself does not know how she has always found a way, does not know where that comes from, within herself. She has never wanted to die, despite the horror.”
She is tried by a Russian soldier court and sentenced to fifteen years in a work camp in Vorkuta Gulag, Siberia. Exchanging one nightmare for another hell. She suffers more indignities at the hands of cruel Russian guards and trustees.
As with the other two books, on the same theme, it is well written, pulls no punches and reveals some of the ways that the prisoners fight to survive. Often at the sacrifice of the others around them. The text, in places, flashes back, revealing some of the events which occurred in the German camp so, in essence, it can quite easily be read as a stand alone book.
I found it sympathetic to the circumstances which Cilka found herself in, with ties to the other two novels. For anyone interested in the era, as I am, it would be an essential read. For those wanting to learn about the Holocaust, told by actual survivors it will also suit. Parts of it are quite graphic so for anyone of a sensitive nature this is probably not for you.