A Little Light on Cilka’s Journey - essay

14.01.2020 14:02

Australian writer Heather Morris decided that after her novel Tattooist of Auschwitz she would continue her successful literary journey through the character of Cilka, the sex slave of the Lagria commander at Auschwitz. The writer’s decision was probably made in Slovakia, where she learned that Cilka was convicted as a collaborator and deported from Auschwitz to a camp in the Soviet Union.

I met Heather Morris in Bratislava in November 2018. She had requested a meeting with me, because she discovered that I had visited Celia’s family and wrote about her fate in one of my books. I was especially interested in the story of her husband Ivan Kováč. He had studied law in pre-war Prague, during the war, he defected to the Soviet Army and as a interpreter in the front lines, discovered a trove of sensitive information during the liberation of Hungary and Budapest. He married the daughter of Russian emigrants from Serbia and had a son Juraj, who lives in the USA.

Heather Morris asked whether I intend to write a novel about Cilka. I replied that I didn’t, because my novel about women in the Soviet camps had been wending its way amongst readers in Central Europe for five years. This was good news for Morris. She decided that she would write Cilka’s story, though little information is available about her time in the Soviet camp. The writer decided to take the risk and the result of her work is an absurd story that has nothing to do with reality or Cilka. Morris has insensitively distorted the fate of a woman who had suffered great anguish and also distorted the reality of Soviet camps. With her false tones, she has contributed to a series of works that benefit from dramatic circumstances without any basic knowledge of them and give little credible testimony about them.

Some of the well known facts from the life of Cilka Klein have to be mentioned here and we should consider whether an author is actually entitled to write a person’s biography without knowing their true story.

From my many interviews with Cilka, we know that she was deported from Bardejov to Auschwitz in April 1943 as a 16-year-old with her two sisters and father. The fate of her stepmother is still unknown today. Cilka is the only one of her family who survived and returned to Bardejov. She knocked on the door of her parents’ flat, where she had grown up, and stood face to face with her neighbour, Mrs H. There was a sense of shock on both sides. Of the three thousand deported, only a handful of people returned to Bardejov immediately after the war. Cilka came back in 1956 and the surprised Mrs H. invited her in. Cilka recognised the furnishings of their original flat, paintings, crystal, porcelain, furniture. It was in her parents’ flat that she understood that she had lost her family in Auschwitz, among murderers, and here, free, she had lost her remaining small property. Mrs H. must have felt it too, and she certainly wanted to please her by saying she had saved something for her. She sent her to the attic and Cilka took away a wooden case containing family photographs. During our meeting in 2003, after the death of her husband Ivan, she showed them to me with the words: “You are the first person I have told all this to.”

Cilka’s life is inherently connected with her husband Ivan’s, so we have to say a few words about him too. In 1945, at the time of the liberation of Czechoslovakia, about ten thousand citizens were deported to camps in the USSR. Ivan Kováč became the victim of denunciation and was sentenced to 10 years of forced labour for alleged hostility to the Soviet Union. He spent more than eight years in various prisons and camps and in Ekibastuz, Kazakhstan, he became friends with A. Solzhenitsyn.

My meetings, discussion and interview recordings continued until his death in 2002, they have been published several times, and his story is currently being made into a documentary. The topics we touched on were not accepted with enthusiasm by Mrs Cilka. She mentioned the deportation...  (continue per p.juscak@gmail.com)