Pictured: The woman who survived Auschwitz AND a Russian gulag

The teenager who survived Auschwitz AND a Russian gulag and has inspired new novel that claims she was a ‘sex slave’ for concentration camp guard

  • Cecilia Kovachova was taken to Auschwitz, then to one of Stalin’s prison camps
  • In Heather Morris’s novel Cilka’s Journey she is portrayed as a teenage ‘sex slave’ 
  • The book’s blurring of truth and fiction has prompted anger from her family 

This is the Holocaust survivor whose horrifying story of imprisonment in Auschwitz and then a Russian gulag has inspired a new novel. 

Cecilia Kovachova was taken to Hitler’s death camp as a teenager, then exiled to a prison camp in Siberia by Soviet invaders in 1945. 

In the novel Cilka’s Journey, she is portrayed as teenage sex slave Cilka Klein who was given a ‘privileged’ position by a besotted Nazi guard – leading the Russians to regard her as a collaborator.   

The book’s blurring of truth and fiction has caused anger from the real-life Holocaust survivor’s family.  

Real-life Holocaust survivor: Cecilia Kovachova – who inspired the main character in new novel Cilka’s Journey – is pictured with her husband Ivan after their release from a Soviet gulag 

Cecilia Kovachova is pictured above with her husband Ivan, whom she met while they were both prisoners at the Russian labour camp. 

In the book, Ivan is replaced by the character of Alexandr with whom she similarly falls in love while in Soviet hands.  

Like the real Kovachova, the character is imprisoned at the Vorkuta gulag, a prison camp established by Stalin which housed tens of thousands of inmates. 

She was eventually released in the 1950s, when Stalin’s successor Nikita Khrushchev was trying to dismantle the former dictator’s legacy. 

Australian author Heather Morris tried to track the real-life Kovachova down when researching her book Cilka’s Journey, but the Holocaust survivor died in 2004. 

‘Cilka’s story is one of burning injustice. She was just a girl, a teenager, who lived through two of the most evil periods in history and became a spoil of war,’ the author told Event magazine earlier this year. 

‘Only shame stopped women like her talking about what had been done to them. This book is, I hope, about the transference of that shame.

‘From what I understand, having spoken to people who knew her up until she died, Cilka was an incredibly loving, caring person who would do anything for anyone. 

Hitler’s death camp:  Cecilia Kovachova was taken to Auschwitz (pictured) as a teenager. In the novel, her character wins the favour of a besotted Nazi guard 

‘It stands to reason an element of that had to come from her experiences in Birkenau. I can’t ask her, no one can now, but her behaviour indicates it.’

At Auschwitz, the author said her character had caught the eye of a high-ranking Nazi officer and been made warden of a death block for women condemned to the gas chambers. 

Once the Red Army arrived in 1945 in the invasion which crushed Hitler’s Germany, she was seen as a collaborator and taken to Siberia by cattle truck. 

An online advert for the new book describes it as a ‘riveting true story of love and resilience’. 

‘Cilka is just sixteen years old when she is taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in 1942, where the commandant immediately notices how beautiful she is,’ it reads. 

‘Forcibly separated from the other women prisoners, Cilka learns quickly that power, even unwillingly taken, equals survival. 

‘When the war is over and the camp is liberated, freedom is not granted to Cilka: She is charged as a collaborator for sleeping with the enemy and sent to a Siberian prison camp.

Soviet prison camp: Kovachova was imprisoned at the Vorkuta gulag (pictured), a camp established by Stalin which housed tens of thousands of inmates

‘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.’  

However, the real-life Kovachova’s stepson George Kovach recently criticised the novel and said she would have been ‘devastated’ by it. 

‘She was in the Holocaust, she was in Auschwitz, she spent nine years in a gulag, and now to have her reputation and her life dragged through the mud, I just find that appalling,’ he said.  

Morris’s book is the sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, a bestseller novel by the same author which was criticised by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Centre.  

‘Given the number of factual errors, this book cannot be recommended as a valuable title for persons who want to explore and understand the history of Auschwitz concentration camp,’ wrote Auschwitz researcher Wanda Witek-Malicka. 

‘The preliminary research, if at all conducted, was not reliable, and the documentation preserved [at Auschwitz] was not taken into consideration at all. 

‘The book contains numerous errors and information inconsistent with the facts, as well as exaggerations, misinterpretations and understatements on which the overall inauthentic picture of the camp reality is built.’  

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