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Readers can move an author’s hand to further flesh out a significant character depicted in one of her books. This happened to Heather Morris in her historical novel, The Tattooist at Auschwitz (2018). Within the wake of this New York Times Best Seller, millions of emails asked about Cilka, a close friend of Gita, another Slovakian Jew in the Nazi death camp.

Subsequent research afforded minimal information about Cilka Klein (1926-2004), fluent in six languages, outstanding for her physical beauty, and wise beyond her sixteen years. Not only did she survive nightly rapes by two senior commandants, not only was she responsible for the women in Hut 25 before being gassed, she survived until the camp’s 1945 liberation by the Soviet Army. However, her new interrogators judged her a collaborator and sentenced her to fifteen years of hard labor at the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia.

 Here, Cilka’s Journey (2019), the novel begins, embellished by Morris’s secondhand research. Sparse prose engages her readers’ involvement as we follow Cilka, hardened to the core, her senses jaundiced, bereft of any vestige of the feminine. Yet, she adjusts, carefully, among her new captors and hut mates. Despite starvation diets, ragged clothing, long and brutal winters, despite death claiming overworked victims, Cilka’s presence empowers those around her to feel, even smile. Years pass. Occasional laughter trips the nightly gloom in their hut while crocheting threads torn from bed sheets into wall decorations.

Central to Cilka’s psychic transformation are a woman doctor, Yelena Georgiyevna, and Alexandr, another inmate. Through them, Cilka envisions a personal future that softens her into the loving woman she was destined to become.

Cilka’s Journey is a significant read for those involved in the Sacred work of transformation, one day at a time.

 

 

“$300 Reward! Run away. An intelligent, bright, mulatto girl, named Harriet, 21 years of age. Five feet four inches high. Dark eyes, and black hair inclined to curl, but can be made straight. Has a decayed spot on front tooth. She can read and write, and in all probability will try to make it to the Free States….” Such was the advertisement posted in every public place in Edenton, North Carolina by her owner, a sadistic physician who lusted after her. This was in 1834.

For the next seven years Harriet Jacobs hid in the crawl space of her grandmother’s porch not far from the home of the physician and his wife and children until friends arranged her passage to New York. How she and her two children eventually gained their freedom fill the pages of this slim memoir, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in1861 by Thayer and Eldrige of Boston.

Unlike other narratives composed by former slaves, Harriet’s witnesses to the evil of the Master-woman slave bondage, the latter, perceived as chattel to be abused or sold or killed. Only adherence to her grandmother’s principles sustained Harriet through chilling hardships.

Such testimony speaks to the evil that many women still experience, caught within the cross-hairs of men’s lust, an evil that damages psyches, often irreparably.

 

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In recent decades a simple earthy woman has been emerging from obscurity, a woman who styled herself as “…a small sound of the trumpet from the Living Light.”

Dependence upon her visions, received in full consciousness, uniquely fitted her to serve others: she founded a community of like-minded women, designed and built housing to accommodate their needs, composed hymns for prayer and worship, authored the first musical morality play, put out major books on theology and treatises on herbal remedies and gynecology and sexuality, corresponded with world leaders in government and religion, counseled the distressed, preached from pulpits in major European cathedrals, agonized over armies spoiling the fertile earth for material gain, and scolded lax Popes during her eighty-one years of life .

A seer of the Unseen, she bothered many. So much so that after her death, the proper authorities successfully blurred, then obliterated her far-reaching influence. Her violent world, like ours, reflected the Titanic clash of spirits: spiritus contra spiritus.

But the Feminine Spirit, once expressed, cannot be silenced. The work of this Encyclopedist continues firing the imaginations of present-day scholars delving into her extant works and exploring fresh vistas into the cosmic dimensions of all life. Only at this mystical depth can healing occur.

In 2012, Pope Gregory XVI canonized her and named her a Doctor of the Catholic Church, one of only three women to hold this distinction. Indeed, the “… small sound of the trumpet from the Living Light” still finds resonance in humble hearts today.

Her name is St. Hildegard of Bingen, German Benedictine Abbess (1098 – 1179).

 

 

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