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

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

by Clara Kramer, Stephen Glantz


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In the classic vein of The Diary of Anne Frank—a heart-wrenching and inspiring story of a life lived in fear and cramped quarters—Clara’s War is a true story of the Holocaust.

Cara Kramer was a typical Polish-Jewish teenager from a small town at the outbreak of the Second World War. When the Germans invaded, Clara's family was taken in by the Becks, a Volksdeutsche (ethnically German) family from their town. Mrs. Beck worked as Clara's family's housekeeper. Mr. Beck was known to be an alcoholic, a womanizer, and a vocal anti-Semite. But on hearing that Jewish families were being led into the woods and shot, Beck sheltered the Kramers and two other Jewish families.

Eighteen people in all lived in a bunker dug out of the Becks' basement. Fifteen-year-old Clara kept a diary during the twenty terrifying months she spent in hiding, writing down details of their unpredictable life—from the house's catching fire to Mr. Beck's affair with Clara's neighbor; from the nightly SS drinking sessions in the room above to the small pleasure of a shared Christmas carp.

Against all odds, Clara lived to tell her story, and her diary is now part of the permanent col-lection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061728617
Publisher: HarperCollins US
Publication date: 04/20/2010
Pages: 339
Sales rank: 236,680
Product dimensions: 8.06(w) x 5.34(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 15 - 18 Years

About the Author

Clara (Schwarz) Kramer and her family were among the approximately five thousand Jews in Zolkiew, Poland, before World War II. At the end of the war, she and her parents numbered among the approximately sixty who survived. Kramer has served as president of the Holocaust Resource Foundation at Kean University for the past two decades. She lives in New Jersey.

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 14: We Are Just Starting to Suffer (23 April to May 1944)

The soldiers [SS who had requisitioned a room in the Becks’ house] would be sleeping right above the bunker where Lola, Gedalo, Kuba, Artek and the Steckels slept. Unlike the trainmen, whose names I hadn’t discovered in the two months they’d been with us, within minutes I learned that the soldiers were Norbert, Dieter, Richard and Hans. With six Germans living above us, water, food, the pails would all be impossible. If the soldiers were here, the trainmen would be gone, and vice versa. It was like one of those theatrical farces where characters run in and out of doors, barely missing each other in a ridiculous chase, except the comedy going on above our head had lethal consequences.

As soon as Norbert’s duffel landed on the floor, he fiddled with the radio until he’d found a station that played popular music and light opera. He started singing right away and suddenly reverberating through the floorboards was a clear and vibrant tenor. Most people when they sang to themselves, especially when others were around, were at least a little inhibited, even if they adored their own voices. But Norbert was singing to the audience in the balcony. He knew, it seemed, every song on the radio. My life couldn’t have felt any stranger to me at that moment. I didn’t know who Norbert was, what he looked like, where he came from, or whether he would turn out to be one of those Germans who’d regale the Becks with his proficiency in killing Jews. All I knew of him was that he had a voice that people would have paid money to hear and I had been moved by musicin a way that had not happened since Mania sang at her concert three springs ago. I didn’t want to love his voice…. How dare a German have such a beautiful voice when his finger was on the trigger of a gun and there was a Jew in his sights.

Mama was so upset by the arrival of so many soldiers upstairs, she fainted. Yet neither I nor Papa dared move to help her because we were afraid of being heard, despite the noise upstairs. Life in the bunker had trained me to resist almost every natural impulse I had, so I watched the rise and fall of her chest as if she were in a pleasant sleep, and hoped she would come out of her faint without making any noise at all.

The second after all of them had gone out, Beck came down and said that God was sending an army to watch over us and keep suspicion far from our door. I didn’t know how much longer I could believe in Beck’s luck. I tried to see in the dim light if he believed his own words or was just encouraging us. But I couldn’t see his eyes, and then there was a knock on the door, and Beck ran back up. The groaning trapdoor closing was covered by the sound of Beck’s feet rushing to get the door. The hotel was full. I didn’t see how they could fit anyone else. But it wasn’t another guest. It was a Nazi policeman.

He was telling Beck to come with him to the chief of police. Immediately. Beck hadn’t been ordered to the police station for months and months and this policeman was a stranger. Beck went away whistling, but we didn’t believe it. One onerous reason after another swept through the bunker. He had been reported for hiding Jews; for dealing with the partisans; for selling English pounds on the black market; for stealing vodka, and any of the other treasonable sins. Otherwise we would have heard laughter, gossip, an easy-going greeting and the reason Beck had been called. I prayed for Beck the way I prayed for Uchka, for Mania, for Zygush and Zosia. I prayed for him in the way I prayed for my dearest loved ones.

Waiting for Beck and our fate in darkness would have been too frightening to bear. Since the initial bombing of Lvov last week, we never knew if we’d have electricity or not. I didn’t know if Beck would come back unharmed, or the police would break down the door and kill us. Ever since Beck had been taken away, we had all been so on edge that I feared we were going insane. Mr Patrontasch was calculating seconds, minutes, hours and days in his book again. Gedalo was writing madly, but wouldn’t show it to anyone. Lola had her hand to her mouth, suppressing her laughter. The more everyone looked at her, begging with their eyes for her to stop, the harder it was. She turned her face to the wall until she calmed down. It had to be hysteria because there nothing funny going on this morning. The Steckels fingered the cyanide capsules around their necks as they always did when we were threatened. Zosia grabbed a pillow and put it over her own face and started to cry silently. And there was Mama in the dirt. At least we had light this morning.

When we were alone in the house again, I asked Lola to tell us why she had been laughing so hard.

‘I was looking around the bunker and saw that everybody’s hair had turned white or grey and so I didn’t feel so bad about my hair.’

. . .

Beck must have run into the soldiers because he came back into the house with them. He was whistling ‘All’s Well…’ At least we knew Beck was all right and we were not dead yet. I knew we’d have to wait until the soldiers and the trainmen next went out before we found out the reason Beck was called by the police chief.

When he was finally able to come down, he told us that they wanted him to stand guard at the train station in addition to his regular job. He was still a trusted Volksdeutscher, and a vital part of the local German war machine. He was given a new gun, and he said he would give one of his guns to us as soon as he had the chance. I didn’t know if there was a man in our bunker who had actually fired a weapon. But Beck was relieved and so were we. He also told us that the soldiers promised him they wouldn’t be a bother to the Becks because they would be spending most of their time at their jobs, which were preparing the German motor pool for retreat. As soon as I had heard what they’d be doing, I knew they’d be here until the bitter end. The arrival of these soldiers caused so many changes for us that I felt despite all the suffering of the past 17 months, in so many new ways our suffering had just begun.

Table of Contents

A Note to the Reader xiii

Prologue 1

1 My Grandfather 13

2 A Place to Hide 40

3 The Housekeeper 62

4 A Gift from Mr Beck 75

5 I Go to the Ghetto 96

6 The Final Solution 110

7 The Arrival 133

8 18 April 152

9 The Love Affair 165

10 Days of Awe and Atonement 183

11 A Year Underground 199

12 Valentine's Day 219

13 The SS Move In 234

14 We Are Just Starting to Suffer 262

15 I'm Losing Hope 276

16 The Exodus 288

17 Zolkiew without Mania 304

18 The Diary 319

Epilogue: Life Goes On 325

Acknowledgements 337

What People are Saying About This

John Clare

“Utterly compelling. At times, the tension is as high as in any thriller designed to stop your heart.”

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Clara's War 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 48 reviews.
doggiemom More than 1 year ago
A profoundly moving story. The tenacious way in which Clara and her peers clung to life in the most horrible circumstances is a lesson for us all. You read a story like this and you are reminded again of what is essential. I would also recommend ALL BUT MY LIFE also available from Barnes and Noble.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am fortunate enough to know clara's son and he gave me this book autographed by mrs kramer..her story is a remarkable journey thru one of the most horrific times in human history..... it is well written and brings her struggle to life...thank you for sharing this with the world.
Cougar_H More than 1 year ago
"Joy to the world, the Yids are dead. Hung by their necks, shot through their heads. Joy to the world, the earth is red with their blood..It started to trickle now it's a flood." This is a song the Germans sang at the house of the Becks. Let me ask you, would you sacrifice 2 years of your life, almost lose every thing, and go against everything you're taught or save yourself? The Becks did and Julia, Ala, and Valentine who was an anti-Semite, a drinker, and a loyal Volksdeutscher became heroes in this book. Picture this; you are a loyal German that has made the decision of harboring 18 illegal Jews under your house which is a death penalty offense. You have the SS, Trainmen, Blue Coats, and Nazi's living just centimeters above and you have to be able to feed and dispose of waste all the time. You are running out of money for food and people are becoming suspicious of you. Tough right, the Becks went through this each day. The 18 people stayed in the bunker until literally their skin started to fall off. They spent nearly two years in a hole dug out beneath someone's house and no one died in the bunker. The SS actually saw one of them but could not find them. Like in all holocaust books Clara faced succumbing to death because of not wanting to continue struggle. After the liberation only 50 people, 18 saved by the Becks, survived out of 5,000 and only Clara and her family survived with both parents. So after you read this reflect and ask yourself, in their place would you do the same? All in all, Cara's War is an informative book and a triumph of human spirit and sacrifice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Heartbreaking to know millions died because of hatred. Thank you Clara for telling the world of this madness. Thank God you, your family and extended family survived this nightmare.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A young lady writes (in a diary) what years later evoles into a powerful, compelling account of about 2 years of her and 17 others day in & day out along with the unlikeliest of savior's; with unusual honesty about his faults and his compassion for these Jews Compassion hidden inside what
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read quite a few Holocaust books/memoirs and watched many movies, but this is one of my favorites. I have never experienced one written by a then adolescent who survived 2 years in hiding in an underground bunker, with 17 other people. This book made me cry, left me on the edge of my seat, and in the end left me in awe and admiration of these people and the family who risked everything to hide them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I feared for the families thru the entire telling, never sure that the Beck's would keep their secret. The characters were so clearly drawn.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An intensely emotional and riveting story of the survival of a handful of Jews hidden by a selfless Gentile family during WWII below their bedroom floor in a bunker hewed by hand. It is hard to imagine any deeper suffering than that of Europe's Jews during the Holocaust. That the humanspirit can rise above the darkness that was so deep during that time is truly a miracle.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting true tale, you will feel like part of the family and therefore invested in their survival.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Moving and real! Excellent read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was deeply moved by this beautifully written account of the author's family's survival in an underground bunker in Poland under the Nazis. An important and gripping document. You get to know the family members intimately and grow to care desperately about them. A harrowing and inspiring read. I could not recommend this book more highly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a great memoir from WWII that documents very realistically the struggle of surviving in hiding during the nazi occupation. Clara's war is a compelling story and accurately reflects much of the emotions and trials that were emitted by Jewish people, Nazis, and others affected by the war. Very good book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is truly remarkable how people survived in an impossible situation. The determination and committment is truly inspiring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ElizaJane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reason for Reading: I am always driven to read first hand Holocaust accounts, especially from children's points of view. 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.
Caspettee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Clara's War is the story of Clara Kramer (nee Schwarz) and her family's survival during WWII Nazi occupation of Northern Poland. We are told the story through the eyes of Clara as the Russian's flee Zolkiew leaving the citizens to defend themselves against the advancing Germans and the subsequent occupation. Clara's family as well as two others seek refuge in a small dug out bunker under the house owned by the Melmans. Above them the Beck family protect them from discovery from the SS and Blue Coats. While the three Jewish families hide in the bunker all around them friends and relatives are being transported, detained or killed. As the war draws out the risks that the Beck's, Schwarz's, Melman's and Patrontasch's increase daily as the slaughter and persecution of Jewish people escalates. they have to contend with cramped living conditions as their number swell from 11 to 18, German SS and trainmen residing in the Beck's house, Mr Beck's womanising and drunken behaviour, and threat of starvation and illness.This is an amazing story of survival which is told with care and respect. While I am sure the whole story was not told here the events included are enough to give the reader no illusions of how the families lived and the horrors they experienced during this period.The saddest part of the book for me was when Clara told the story about how two young boys (around 13) turned in a Jewish girl knowing what would happen to her all for 5 litres of vodka followed by the courage of the young Jewish girl. There is of course more to the story which made it sadder but I will not reveal that here and let you discover it for yourself. One of the most up lifting moments is when, after the town is liberated by the Russians and the families are picking up the pieces, a man who before the war had wanted to help the Schwarz's and couldn't turned up and returned the gift they had given him at the start.To me reading these books is vitally important to remind us of the worst and best humanity can be and remind us we should never allow something like that happen ever again. While this book is sad in it's subject matter the story will leave you having your faith restored in people. This book was also very educational while I am aware like most people of what happened and Auschwitz my knowledge was limited and I did end up jumping on the net and reading up on various things mentioned in the book and learnt a lot more about my WWII history. It is great to see more of these stories being recorded before they are lost.Thank you Clara Kramer for sharing your story.
bazzafr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A riveting tale of hardship and endurance under desperate conditions during WW11. In this modern age it is difficult to imagine how Clara and most of her immediate family survived against all the odds. As a gentile, I found the constant references to Jewish religious practices quite irritating but was impressed by their desire to persevere with their traditions and beliefs. The names of individuals were hard to remember and the family tree was a useful checklist to refresh one's memory.Considering the publisher, I was amazed at the number of typo and grammar errors. On the whole, I found the book interesting but not one that I would ever read again.
creighley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Moving narrative of a young Polish girl in the wealthy Jewish town of Zolkiew, Poland, Clara Kramer, and her family and friends who were rescued from the Nazis during WWII. Eighteen people were hidden beneath a trap door....llittle food, little water, enduring excruciating heat and cold for two years. Originally when going into hiding, they planned for two weeks.
abbylibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When World War II came to their small Polish town, Clara's family was taken in by a Catholic family and hidden in a dug-out bunker underneath the house. Eventually, the bunker came to hold 18 Jews in total and they lived in squalid conditions, praying that they would survive to see the end of the war. Using details from her diary, Clara relates this gruesome tale of her family's determination to survive and the kindness and generosity of the family that risked their own lives to hide them for so many years. Although the writing is sometimes repetitive, any survivor's story is a precious resource and it's wonderful that Clara Kramer and Stephen Glantz have preserved this account. I particularly appreciated the chapter on celebrating Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, while in the bunker. It's evident how much their faith helped Clara's family hold on.
shsb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I try to read as much Holocaust literature as I can, especially diaries and first-person accounts of those alive at the time, so I looked forward to this book immensely. I was not disappointed. This is the story of Clara Schwarz, a Polish Jew, one of 5000 Jews in the town of Zolkiew at the time of the Nazi invasion of Poland. Clara was hidden by a Polish couple in a bunker with 17 other Jews, and because of their bravery she lived to tell her story.What I enjoyed most was seeing how the families that were hidden together and the family that hid them truly became bonded to each other not only during the Holocaust but throughout the remainder of their lives. I enjoyed Clara's portrayal of Beck, the man who not only hid 18 Jews, but remained behind in Zolkiew at great risk to his family's safety rather than abandon these 18 Jews. Clara idolizes beck, but even as a young teen is able to distinguish that while he is an amazing and generous man as a rescuer, he is a far different person as a husband and father.I found this story especially touching because the author familiarizes the reader with the names of so many loved ones who perished in the Holocaust. While many tomes refer to the 6 million, or in this case, the 5000 Jews in Zolkiew, Clara talks about her Aunts, Uncles, neighbors, and others who are killed. And as in every Holocaust memoir, the brutality and hatred displayed by both German soldiers and citizens alike is hard to understand and endure. When Clara describes hearing a german policeman describe with pride how many Jews he had killed, not knowing that 18 Jews were hidden under the floor beneath him, my stomach clenched for Clara and all Jews in Poland at the time.I highly recommend this book to all interested in Holocaust memoirs and literature. Clara's diary, which she wrote while in hiding, is part of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum now, and my only regret about this book is that it did not include many more excerpts from her diary.
watertiger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival left me absolutely humbled.Once in a great while you come upon a book that will completely change your perspective on life. This book certainly taught me how much in life is taken for granted.With the skilled writing of Stephen Glantz, Clara Kramer shares her story with simplicity and humility.I could not put this book down... and I continue to think and talk about Clara's story. I do not want to give anything away. Suffice it to say... this book needs to be on every person's Must Read list.note: I read the hc edition which included photographs from the past, as well as, current photos of Clara and some survivors.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Real account from someone who lived in hiding during the War. Great
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How these people survived is beyond my comprehension. They were so brave with their faith and their determination to live and tell their story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Clara takes us with her into the crawlspace beneath the bedroom of the Beck's home in 1941 and through her diary we manage to cling to life and hope in the horror of the Nazi invasion. Her story brings to life the constant fear of discovery juxtaposed with the ways these individuals managed to live, breathe, eat, and take care of bodily functions while under scrutiny from Germans, Poles, and Ukrainians who would happily count them among the growing number of Jews they had killed. Unlikely heroes emerge. Children loose their parents, yet learn to read in the dark space which is the only safe place left to them. This book relates a different holocaust story than so many others. It shares the same fear, loss, and the same triumph over evil that we have come to recognize among these persecuted people. Let it end.
Rhonda-Runner1 More than 1 year ago
This book deserves more than 5 stars! I was captivated from the first page and it only took me a couple of days to read this. It is the story of a young Jewish girl, her family members and others who are hidden in an underground bunker from the Nazi during the Holocaust. It is hard to wrap your head around all the hardships that this group of people endured for 18 months. This is a fantastic read and I am so glad the author chose to share her ordeal.