A few years ago, I read the Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, the story of Lale a Slovakian Jew in Auschwitz forced to permanently mark his fellow prisoners. During his time in Auschwitz, he meets and falls in love with Gita. When I got the end of that book; the afterword revealed it to be a true story, I’m not quite sure how I had missed that, I’ve been recommending it to people ever since.
I read Morris’ follow up, Cilka’s journey, another harrowing but vital read, and had Three Sisters on order ready for release.
Three Sisters is the story of Cibi, Magda and Livia; when they’re little girls, they make a promise to their father that they will stay together no matter what.
Years later as teenagers 15-year-old Livia is ordered to Auschwitz; Cibi, who’s 19, follows her determined to protect her little sister or die with her.
17-year-old Magda is still at home with her mother and grandfather, she manages to evade the Nazis by hiding in woods or a neighbour’s attic during the round ups. Eventually she and the remainder of her family are captured and sent to Auschwitz.
Once Cibi, Magda and Livia are together again, they draw hope from the promise they made to their father and vow to each other that they will survive.
I love the background about how this story came about. Cibi’s son wrote to Heather Morris after reading the Tattooist of Auschwitz, he asked her to meet his mother and her sisters to consider telling their story.
At the time, Morris was on a promotional tour of South Africa, instead of flying back to Australia, she took a detour and headed to Israel to meet the sisters. From there hours of interviews took place resulting in Morris bringing the story of the three sisters to the world.
As with her previous books, Morris has ensured an important story will continue to be handed down for future generations; that is in thanks to the sisters and their decision to speak about their experiences and share their story with Morris.
The majority of this book details the horror and brutality the sisters faced at Auschwitz/Berkenau. Cibi and Livia were sent there in 1942, Magda in 1944.
It details how Cibi and Livia had to do anything they could to survive, how they were shown moments of kindness, how they’re love for each other kept them going. We see them come very close to giving up altogether but being pulled back from the brink of death.
At the same time, there’s Magda’s fears for her sisters, how she copes with not knowing what had happened to them or where they were, the guilt she felt about not being with them and for not keeping their promise.
It’s a bittersweet moment when the three of them are reunited; it really left me conflicted, I was pleased they were together, able to hug each other again but at the same time was devastated that it was in hell, with them facing death every, single day.
These girls kept each other going and kept each other alive, literally.
The big difference here between this and The Tattooist of Auschwitz is that Morris explores fully what happened to the sisters after the camps were liberated. How they went on to rebuild their lives.
Finding their home had been taken over, the sisters set out to start again and deciding to make their way to Israel – Livia and Magda make the journey first, Cibi joins them later.
It shows the difficulties they face in coming to terms with what they had been through, each dealing with survivor’s guilt, Cibi losing her faith, unable to pray.
Their resilience and determination to keep their promise is enduring as they live lives filled with children and grandchildren – the sisters are very much aware of all the children and grandchildren who weren’t born because of the Holocaust – each sister has a particular moment that haunts them.
Three Sisters is a story about the very worst in humanity but it’s also a story of bravery, hope and love. I’m so pleased I was able to read about the Mellar sisters and I think there’d be a lot that you’d take away from it too – it is an amazing story that deserves to read.
P.S Definitely read the afterword and notes from the family at the end of this book.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm