Here we go again.
After many literary critics and Holocaust scholars attacked Heather Morris’ unvetted and un-factchecked romantic sexcapade novel set in a Nazi concentration camp in the 1940s, the Australian publisher Angela Meyer has had the chutzpah to completely ignore the criticism from reporters at the New York Times and The Australian and forge ahead with the planned October release of a so-called “sequel” to the first novel in what is now a two-part series.
Holocaust scholars at the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland say they already found the story of a Jewish character named Cilka, partly told in Morris’s debut novel and now set to be continued in the sequel titled ”Cilka’s Journey” to be ”highly questionable.”
Repeat: ”highly questionable.”
British reporters Alison Flood and Kate Nicholson at the Guardian newspaper looked into the marketing plans for a sequel and came up flabberghasted. Flood had earlier reported on the the inaccuracies in “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” and now this? Yes, that’s how irresponsible and amoral some editors in the publishing industry in Australia have become.
Scholars at the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland have voiced concerns after Morris — who is not Jewish and grew up in a rural New Zealand town where she never met or knew any Jews as a child or a teenager — announced last week that a sequel to ”The Tattooist of Auschwitz” will be published in October and will piggyback on the bestseller sales figures of the first novel and use the real life of a Jewish woman sent to the Nazi concentration camp as a child as ”inspiration” for another “based on a true story” literary fabrication.
And guess what? It’s another sex and romance love story and again it’s aimed squarely at a female audience of non-Jewish readers of escapist romance novels. You’d think that Morris would have learned her lesson the first time out of the gate, but no, she’s wants to make more money for her publishers and herself with a follow-up of questionable taste and accuracy. It is not ”based on a true story” as the cover of the sequel will say, just as the first book in the series was also not ”based on a true story.”
It’s a marketing and PR strategy and in the long run, it’s going to backfire.
According to the Guardian recent report, ”The Tattooist of Auschwitz” tells a concocted story of a Jewish inmate named Lali Sokolov, and how he fell in allegedly ”love with a woman he tattooed at the camp.”
Except that he did not tattoo her at all, but instead met her in the barracks of the camp and socialized with her there. Sokolov died in 2006, and Morris changed his words to fit the screenplay she wanted to write after manipulating him to say things to her that never in fact really happened. She manipulated an elderly Holocaust survivor for her own gain — and fame. Even the man’s own son, Gary Sokolov says the same.
Not only was this blogger curious, but ”Morris’s blend of fiction and fact” also troubled some Holocaust scholars in Australia and Poland, the Guardian reports.
In particular, the Auschwitz Memorial Research Centrer in Poland, published a lengthy report clarifying the known facts about events in the book last December, saying the novel contained “numerous errors and information inconsistent with the facts, as well as exaggerations, misinterpretations and understatements” and described it as “an impression about Auschwitz inspired by authentic events, almost without any value as a document”.
So get ready for more fireworks in the literary world as more Holocaust scholars join in the brouhaha over ”Cilka’s Journey.” The novel’s proposed cover proclaims it to be “based on a true love story” — purely as a marketing gimmick to appeal to Morris’ legions of female fans. Few men have read the book.
The Guardian reports that the sequel will be based on a Jewish woman name Cecilia Kovacova, who was a character in ”The Tattooist of Auschwitz.”
In that the novel, Cilka was 16 in 1942 when she entered Auschwitz, where she was allegedly forced to become the Nazi commandant’s sex slave, his Jewish whore.
But what does the Auschwitz Memorial have to say about this made-up travesty of Holocaust facts?
Scholars there have already said “the story of Cilka was one of the most questionable parts” of the novel. The memorial had previously identified Cilka’s storyline as “the major point of concern” in December, saying: “The sexual relationship described in the book between the head of the camp SS-Obersturmführer Johann Schwarzhuber and the Jewish female prisoner Cilka … in practice, the possibility of maintaining such a long relationship … and, according to the book, a semi-explicit relationship between a Jewish female prisoner and high-ranking member of the SS hierarchy was nonexistent. The disclosure of such a relationship would have involved an accusation of race dishonour … and severe punishment for the SS man.”
But Mrs. Morris doesn’t seem to care what the Auschwitz center says. To her fans on Facebook, she shares that sjhe had “wanted to find out more about this extraordinary young woman”, so “decided to honor Cilka by using her life as the inspiration for a [second] novel”.
On Facebook, Morris states that “on liberation, and still only 19, Cilka was charged by the Russians as a collaborator with the Nazis. Once again, Cilka found herself on a train, this time destined for the Siberian gulags. In this new prison, Cilka faced challenges both new and horribly familiar, including the unwanted [sexual] attention of the guards. But Cilka also began to tend to the sick and ill in the camp, struggling to care for them under brutal conditions. In the gulag Cilka daily confronted death and faced terror. Incredibly, she also found love.”
Yes, she found love as only a romance novelist out to make a buck can tell it.
Last year, Morris also told fans on her Facebook page that it would be “obvious what parts of her story are factual” and said she had made two trips to Slovakia to meet “several people who knew Cilka and her husband”. This blogger knows Morris said those things on Facebook because I read them on her FB page and even sent her several messages with questions which she never bothered to reply to.
“They have given me valuable information regarding her time in Siberia and my [sequel] will be based on this research and woven into a fictionalized telling of her story,” Morris wrote on her Facebook page which this blogger also saw. She told another fan, according to the Guardian’s recent article: “You won’t find anything on Google, it has taken professional researchers for me to get the details and information required to write her story, she was a closed book so to speak.”
A spokesperson for Morris’s publisher in London told the Guardian: “Like ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz,’ ‘Cilka’s Journey’ is a novel. While it has been inspired by what Heather Morris has discovered about Cilka, it is fiction, not a biography or an authoritative record of historical events. However, Morris is clear that Lali Sokolov and other survivors from Auschwitz-Birkenau spoke of the relationship between Cilka and [the SS creep] Schwarzhuber. In addition, it is worth noting that Cilka was charged by the Russians with the ‘crime’ of prostitution with an SS officer.”
It’s only February. The “sequel” is coming in October. Get ready for the Heather Morris show to become more of an international literary brouhaha, as questions remain and more questions surface. What will the American publisher in New York, Sara Nelson, who is now every aware of the controversy, say?
This is not going to be a pretty picture. But there’s money to be made, lots of money, and that’s the business publishers are in, and the brazen and unapologetic Australian and British publishers are pushing ahead with Morris come what may.