Clara's War: A young girl's true story of miraculous survival under the Nazis by Clara Kramer with Stephen Glantz
Finished: May 20, 2009
First Published: 2008 UK (Apr. 7, 2009 CAN)(April 21, 2009 US)
Genre: memoir, nonfiction, Holocaust
My entire family was camped out on blankets and goosedown bedding in the apple orchard behind Aunt Uchka's little house.
Reason for Reading: I am always driven to read first hand Holocaust accounts, especially from children's points of view. I received a review copy from Random House Canada.
Comments: Young teenager Clara Kramer is living in a small Polish town when WWII starts. The book is her story retold from her memories and from the aid of her diaries kept while hidden during the last 2 years of the war. Starting off in 1939, we get a quick feel for pre-war life, then immediately a Russian protection takeover then quick withdrawal. The Germans soon infiltrate the town and a Jewish Ghetto is set up and the 5,000 Jews in the town are rounded up, sent to the Ghetto, packed onto cattle trains, while others desperately seek hiding places.
Clara's family along with a group of family and friends ask their Polish maid to
persuade her husband to hide them. This isn't so hard since he is having a secret affair with her best friend (who happens to be Jewish and part of the group to be hidden). They ask him to requisition one of the families houses, which the Germans gladly give him, as he has some standing in the community, and then the children in the group (because of their size) start to dig a dugout underneath the house. Eventually everyone helps out and the dugout becomes big enough (just) for the 18 people to squeeze into.
Mr. Beck, the man who is hiding them is actually quite well known for his antisemitism and he regularly has Nazi visitors to his house. Later on the Nazi's impose themselves on his hospitality and at any time there could be 6 or 7 Nazi soldiers or even SS officials sleeping above the hidden Jews. Beck is not who he first appears to be though and as the life of these people unfold both those downstairs and upstairs we learn how humanity can triumph over even the most degradable conditions.
At times a heart-wrenching tale, at others an uplifting tale of survival against all odds. No matter how many books one reads of the Jewish Holocaust, it is always unbelievable that humans could have treated other humans this way. A story of triumph, love and respect that is well worth the read. Also rather a unique tale in that 18 people were hidden by one small family literally right under the feet of the Nazis themselves.
I only wonder as to why no photographs are included, not even an author's photo of Clara. At first I thought none may have survived but in the final chapter Clara tells us what happened to all persons involved up to the present and she says the photos are all that remain from that time period. It would have been nice to have had faces to go with the names or even at the least a photo of Clara herself at any age.
If you are reading Jewish Holocaust memoirs this is one not to be missed. Read it.