06 April 2010

Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival

Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival by Clara Kramer is an amazing story of survival. In addition to surviving with 17 other people in the dug-out basement of a house for 18 months, fifteen year old Clara (at the insistence of her mother) kept a written record of their day to day lives, the fears and sorrows, and the joys. The details of living under such stress are the moments which make this such a compelling story.

As if living under a house in a crawl space dug out with your own hands is not enough, it is incredible who lived above them in the house. Initially the house was inhabited by Mr. and Mrs. Beck who were both German. Before the war, Julia Beck has served as a maid for Clara's family and she convinced her husband, who was known to be anti-Semetic, to allow the families to hide under their house. In addition, the house was inhabited by Nazi trainmen and Nazi soldiers. Many times, the Jewish families lives were saved by only seconds of time - time to hide, time to eat, time to cry. After the war Clara and her family returned to their own home which became a gathering place for the mere fifty surviving Jews of the 5,000 who had lived in Zolkiew Poland before the war. I was stunned, but not terribly surprised, by Clara's statement after her return to life:

From the stories the survivors told us, I realized we had it better than most. (p. 310)

Still, for me, the most poignant paragraph in the book was written in Clara's diary near the end of the war, with the enemy in the rooms above them and the Becks under suspicion:

Tuesday, 9 May 1944. You could think that a person who looks into the eyes of death as many times as we do would get used to it. But it's the opposite with us. The more we are in danger of dying, the more we are frightened. One wants to live no matter what and no matter how. Every day we look death in the eyes and every day has its own history. If at least we had a verdict, a time, how long we will suffer. We are sitting here and we don't even know if it's for nothing. (p. 262)

To continue on day after day, not knowing when it would end - or how it would end had to have been such an emotional strain and yet these 18 people survived. Ultimately Julia and Valentine Beck were honored at Yad Vashem in Israel. The Beck's daughter, Ala, who lived in the house with the eighteen survivors for most of the war came to the service and planted a tree in the Garden of the Righteous. And Clara - she tries still to live her life worthy of the Becks and her sister Mania who died trying to escape the basement during a fire. She considers her work on Holocaust education a large part of her obligation to these people she loved so much.

Harper Collins provides the reader with the following message from the author (this is also in the book):
To the Readers of Clara's War
Writing this book was like walking out of my kitchen door in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and straight into my home in Zolkiew. Although the events in this book happened over 60 years ago, they have never left me. As with many survivors, I relive them in the present. I am 81 years old, and I am one of the lucky ones. Ever since the day I left the bunker, I have done my best to live a worthy life. I have dedicated myself to the teaching of the Holocaust. The privilege of surviving comes with the responsibility of sharing the story of those who did not. Everything in this book is as I lived and remember it, although I have taken the liberty of reconstructing dialogue to the best of my recollection. I have also used the spelling and names most familiar to me. During the 18 months I spent in the bunker, I kept a diary which today is in the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. There was little light and less paper and only one nub of a pencil to write with. I documented as much as I could in my diary, but although I often spoke about my life, the idea of writing about it never occurred to me. Thank you (to my cowriter) for encouraging me and for taking this journey with me back to Zolkiew. And thank you for capturing my life so beautifully on paper. I am so grateful that my great-great-grandchildren will be able to meet those of us who came before.

From my memory to theirs, and to yours—

Clara Kramer
{accessed at http://www.harpercollins.com/author/microsite/news.aspx?authorid=35107&newsid=5447#5447}

And here is a YouTube video made by the author.

TITLE: Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival
AUTHOR: Clara Kramer
CO-AUTHOR: Stephen Glantz
PAGES: 339
TYPE: non-fiction
RECOMMEND: A moving story of heroism and determination.
AWARDS: 2010 Sophy Brody Honor Book

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

Wow, what a powerful book! I'm sure I'd cry buckets of tears if I read that one.