Heather Morris, the best-selling author of “The Tattooist of Auschwitz,” has written another powerful book, “Cilka’s Journey,” based on the life of Cecilia “Cilka” Klein, who lived through the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust.
I was fortunate enough to interview Morris before she left on her United Kingdom book tour.
Segal: Lale Sokolov, the prisoner who became the tattooist of Auschwitz, chose you to write the book about his life because you’re not Jewish and would “have no baggage from the Holocaust.” But is there a deeper reason you were chosen to write it?
Morris: Lale believed there wouldn’t be a Jewish person alive not touched by the Holocaust and have their own backstory. From him, I learned about Cilka, whom he called, ‘the bravest person I had ever met.’ The deeper reason was that Cilka, this young girl, had been treated so terribly and unfairly in both Auschwitz and the Russian Gulag, and yet survived and thrived. I found that amazing resilience and sense of hope a story worth writing about.
Segal: Has writing the books changed you and the direction of your life?
Morris: It hasn’t really changed me. I still value all that I valued before and still love what I have always loved. But certainly, the direction of my life has changed. I have so many stories still to be told and my passion for writing those stories has escalated because I have met so many people that want me to write their stories.
Segal: I understand that people all over the world are contacting you, sharing their stories about the circumstances and experiences with the characters in your books. What will you do with the additional information?
Morris: Each day I’m overwhelmed with the stories sent to me. It allows me to really understand the magnitude of people’s sense of hope and courage, and also their compassion and forgiveness. A few have stood out, so we will see where that leads me.
Segal: You’ve referenced the deep shame that the women of the Holocaust kept hidden and suffer from, even though the shame should never have been theirs. Do you think you might write a book about that topic?
Morris: Research and studies have been carried out on elderly survivors in aged care facilities and documented. I will not rule out writing further on this subject. It is a subject I feel very strongly about.
Segal: Will your powerful books be made into movies?
Morris: Currently “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” is in the early stage of a six-part mini-series, which we hope will air next year. Still early days for Cilka, but like you, a lot of people are wanting to see Cilka on the big screen.
Segal: After reading both books, the characters live on, inside of me. Do they for you too?
Morris: Yes, they certainly do. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of Lale, Gita and now Cilka, all so much part of my life. I am thankful that I have had the privilege to write their stories, I find that humbling and I respect so much what Lale and Cilka went through. And, of course, there are always those whose stories have not been told, those who suffered and many who paid the ultimate price. I hope I honor them in all I do. I now live by Lale’s motto: ‘If you wake up in the morning, it is a good day.’
“Cilka’s Journey” will be featured Nov. 4 at the Book Festival of the MJCCA.