The next time I am feeling sorry for myself, I vow to remember this book. What are my trivial (often self-made) problems compared to surviving the Holocaust by living in a bunker for 18 long months? What do I have to complain about when there is no one hunting me down simply because of my race and/or religion, and I have more than enough food at hand? I've never lost a younger sister at the hands of sadistic Nazis and been unable to properly mourn because doing so might bring death to the surviving Jews hidden with me. Truly, reading Clara's War by Clara Kramer has put my problems in perspective and has given me keen insight into the experiences of a young woman forced to live underground in constant fear.
Told by Clara Kramer, the book is based on her life in Poland as a teenaged girl forced to survive the extermination of Jews by living in a bunker under the home of the Beck family. Clara documented (at her mother's insistence) the horror by writing in a diary as the eighteen people crowded together in the most primitive of conditions endured incredible heat and cold, constant hunger, and the terror of Nazi soldiers who moved in just above them. Though Clara was glad to be alive, she knew that her survival came at great expense to the family who lived above, and her constant theme throughout the book was that the Becks put themselves in danger repeatedly for people they hadn't really known very well before they volunteered to hide them. Clara also described the utter desolation she and her parents felt when her younger sister Mania, in an hysterical fit brought on by a fire in the house above, escaped the bunker and fled to the local nunnery, only to be turned in by former schoolmates and ultimately shot. Through the pages of her diary (now in the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.), Clara reconstructs an unbelievable and horrifying time in history from her often numb, and sometimes desperate, point of view.
Any time I read any book based on the Holocaust, I am amazed at this carnage allowed to happen and the loss of so many lives at the hands of the Nazi regime. That Clara and her family were among only 50 survivors of their Jewish town's population of 5000 is a testament to the goodness of the Becks and the determination of the Jewish families hidden inside a tiny bunker. This book rips your soul apart as you read of death and loss, and yet there is a triumph in the end that Clara and her parents somehow survived. This is a well-written story that brings to life a time many would like to forget occurred. Don't let that happen; pick up this book and let your own perspective on life be changed.