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Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival Paperback – April 20, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Polish-born Kramer, president of the Holocaust Resource Foundation at Kean University, was a teenager when her family and others hid from the Nazis in a secret bunker, rescued by a former housekeeper and her husband, a reputed drunken anti-Semite who turned out to be an avenging angel. Kramer's extensive recollections range from a liaison that threatened the household and daily squabbles in the tomblike underground quarters where food was scarce to their fear of discovery by the Nazis and the shock and desperation of learning about relatives and friends who had been killed. Her sister was sold out by a neighbor boy for a few liters of vodka. This vividly detailed and taut narrative is a fitting tribute to the bravery of victims and righteous gentiles alike. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Apr. 21)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* For 18 months, a young teen hid with 17 other Polish Jews in a bunker dug under the home of their avowed anti-Semitic neighbor, Beck, while the Nazis occupied their town of Zolkiew. The unrelenting hardships of daily life are spellbinding. With German soldiers moving in upstairs, “a snore, a sneeze, a cough could mean the end of us.” How to keep children quiet and not smother a four-year-old when she cries; how to use the toilet bucket; how to empty it. When it is safe, the ethnic German Becks lift the trapdoor and bring the Jews food. Unlike Anne Frank, Clara survived; now she lives in New Jersey, and her diary is in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. The blend of the young girl’s experience with the insight of the survivor looking back is riveting, especially because there is no idealization—neither of the Jews nor of their rescuers. World War II is raging outside; mass deportations are ongoing; bombings are terrifying. But in the house, there is war upstairs with the husband (“our saint”) betraying his wife, Julia, who is plain, arthritic, and the strongest of all. And, in the bunker, the families fight for food, air, and space; some resent taking in children; the wealthy do not share. When the Russians come at last, of the 5,000 Jews in Zolkiew, there are 50 left. And they must save their rescuers. Both a gripping thriller and a heartbreaking drama of human kindness, this is sure to become a classic of Holocaust history. --Hazel Rochman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1 edition (April 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061728616
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061728617
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (352 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

165 of 168 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer VINE VOICE on April 5, 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Here I sit, tears in my eyes, having closed "Clara's War", which I have lived with her these past two days. Zolkiew, Poland, 1941: Surviving with 17 fellow Jews for an incredible 18 months in a shallow dirt bunker under the floor of the paradoxically deeply flawed, yet saintly, Beck, she is urged by her mother, "Write, Clara, write!" And write she did, filling three notebooks with the harrowing, incredible account, and the moments of happiness of their lives during WWII.

Now at 81, having spent her life in teaching and speaking, she has written this book, which fleshes out the diary which she wrote as a child. She brings her vivid memory of those terrible days together with skillful writing and her journal (now preserved and displayed in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.) to create this book. It is difficult to fathom or relate to the events and conditions of their life in the narrow cellar, yet "Clara's War" brings these events and conditions, otherwise unfathomable, to light with a clear and descriptive prose. Though never overstated,the book is compelling and engaging. The hardest parts for me to read (emotionally) were the beginning and the end.

Being plucked from my cozy bedroom and plunged into world of unspeakable cruelty that was the War left me aghast. Still, I followed Clara into the life which she lived and so lucidly articulated: the unimaginable suffering, the sweet kindnesses of the Beck family, the endless fear while living just below the feet of the Nazi soldiers billeted at the Beck's, the close-calls; luck upon luck; and, finally, the survival.

As the story drew to a poignant close, I could not keep from weeping as the 50 (out of 5000!) survivors rejoiced together.
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122 of 126 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Bravo VINE VOICE on March 31, 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Here's the summary: "A teenage Jewish girl writes a diary while hiding with her family and two others from the Nazis in a crowded bunker during World War Two."

Yes, that is the same basic plot as the book that other famous WWII diarist wrote.

So why read "Clara's War"?

Because, other than that basic similarity, these are two very different books.

This book made me even angrier than that more famous diary, and made me cry more than once.

And this book, unlike that other, is really an unbelievably heart-wrenching love story... though you don't realize that until the end.

Clara Schwarz is a quiet, introspective 14 year old living with her parents and rambunctious younger sister in an idyllic Polish town where Jews and Christians have lived in harmony for three centuries. Although pogroms and other persecution have happened other places in Poland over the years, Zolkiew has been spared all of this because it was deemed so by King Sobieski three centuries ago. There is a long tradition of tolerance there.

Then the Nazis come.

Although Clara's father knows hundreds of Christian Poles and Germans through the factory that he owns, only two of them offer to hide his family. The first fellow is a poor Pole with no house and six small children to support. Clara's father declines, because the fellow simply doesn't have the resources. The second, Julia, a hard-working but poor ethnic German, was the Schwarz's housekeeper. She says she and her husband and her 17 year old daughter will hide the family. Clara's father is wary, because Julia's husband, Beck, has an infamous reputation around town: a heavy-drinking womanizer with a short fuse and with a bad reputation as an anti-Semite.
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Maggie Knapp on May 21, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a stunning, moving, heart-wrenching, brutal glimpse into Clara Schwarz Kramer's life. Kramer gives poignant examples of great kindness and devastating examples of great cruelty. This is Anne Frank's diary ratcheted up about three notches as far as cramped living, human fraility and man's inhumanity to man. The family tree is essential for keeping track of who is who, and the line diagram is a start at picturing just how small a space was shared. I cannot understand why the book does not include a more detailed sketch of the living space (maybe a side view instead of just an outline) and I was really, REALLY wanting to see photographs of the people and places mentioned. (8/09 update: A reader has told me the version she read DID have photographs. I'm so glad to know that! I increased my rating to 5 stars.)
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55 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Dr. E VINE VOICE on January 26, 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The three-star rating at Amazon literally indicates, "It's OK." (Hover over it, you'll see). And, this book is just that ... "okay." As noted by a number of brave reviewers, the text suffers as a result of editing. The rapid onslaught of names, some confusing prose, and an excess of description deter the work's flow. Likewise, I found myself perpetually being pulled-out of the narrative as a result of endless, awkward similes/metaphors. In no way do I blame the author (who desired nothing more than to make a contribution to history). I squarely place blame with the editor. In the "Note to the Reader," Krammer states that she had to recreate dialogue and events from memory. This presents a number of problems for the reader: What is true? What is a false memory (as a result of time or trauma)? Does it even matter?

Chapters open with excerpts from Krammer's actual diary. These italicized introductions are starkly written, urgent, and genuinely compelling. I suppose that I would have rather read this diary. Maybe the writing of a teenager seems artless to an editor, but when it comes to history, I do not require exquisitely constructed prose. I want facts. And, in my opinion, there is something pure and painful in a young person's honesty. I wonder why Krammer's editor failed to suggest just publishing her diary.

Like all similar works, this text serves its purpose. It is cathartic for those who have experienced this trauma and it is a tool for learning. It would be entirely appropriate in a high-school classroom. However, I do wish there were less effort invested in making it "beautiful" and more focus on authentic experience. (Whatever "authentic" really means.)
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