Heather Morris, the author of bestselling title The Tattooist of Auschwitz, has been threatened with legal action in the US by the stepson of Cecilia Kovachova around whom her second novel is thought to be based.
Cilka's Journey, which published in October 2019 with Zaffre in the UK and by St Martin's Press in the US, follows The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which was based on the story of the Slovakian Jew Lale Sokolov, who told Morris how he fell in love with a woman he tattooed while he was in the concentration camp. The sequel Cilka's Journey is marketed as "based on the true story of Cilka Klein" (the fictional name for Kovachova) with Morris said to have drawn on "first-hand testimony through conversations with survivors, and through extensive research in Slovakia".
But George Kovach, the stepson of Cecilia Kovachova, accuses the writer of sullying his stepmother's name with "'hurtful, devastating lies" for commercial gains. In particular, he disputes she was ever "a sex slave" as is portrayed in the book (Cilka Klein, the protagonist in Morris's story, has a sexual relationship with the head of the camp, SS-Obersturmführer Schwarzhuber), adding she "did not do any of the things that have been written by Morris".
He told the Mail Online: "The time has now come for this to be settled in court. It's going to cost me a lot of money but it will be worth it. I'm determined to clear Cecilia's name. She was a wonderful person, one of life's great survivors and it makes me livid that she has been defamed in this way."
According to the same news outlet, Kovach had been approached to write an afterword for the book and to contribute pictures, but after reading sample material he declined–"'I asked that the book not be published, which was never going to happen or that they make it clear that Cilka is a completely fictional character," he said. "Initially, my father Ivan was also portrayed in this novel. Readers have been misled by what is a pack of lies."
In the past, according to the Mail Online, Morris has said in her defence, "I've said from the start, all I'm doing is telling the story that Lale told me."
Kovach's lawyer believes they have established the right to bring the case to court in the US, using Slovakian law, which allows relatives to file for reputational damage to a person even after they have died. In England and Wales, you cannot libel the dead.
The Bookseller has contacted Bonnier Books UK and St Martin's Press for comment.