Clara's War by Clara Kramer

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Clara's War by Clara Kramer

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Price
Reviewed by Ruth Price
Summary: Persevere with the slightly muddy writing of this memoir to enjoy a tale of survival of the human spirit under severe hardship.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Ebury Press
ISBN: 978-0091924409

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This WW2 memoir of a 15-year-old Jewish girl in Poland, hidden with her family in a damp, cramped bunker under the floorboards of a house occupied by a man believed to be a virulent anti-Semite, draws inevitable comparisions with The Diary of Anne Frank. Four families endure terrible hardship while hiding from the Nazis; Clara Kramer kept a diary of their lives, recording their gruelling existence and daily terror of discovery. This book is based on those diaries, from her perspective sixty years later.

I had been really looking forward to this book, yet I really struggled with the first few chapters. Clara's detailed yet dull description of her extended family, and her rather stolid writing style (she was assisted in writing it by Stephen Glanz), made turning the pages hard work, despite the tragic events she described. It may be churlish, as the author has certainly survived the hardest of times, but I longed for Anne Frank's spiky vivacity to enliven this tale, and colour the characters that inhabit it.

However, once the family was installed in a bunker under a house occupied by the irascible Beck (a drunkard, black-marketeer and adulterer who turned out to be their saviour) despite its author's plodding style, I began to enjoy this book much more. Whatever the flaws in its writing, this is a tale worth telling. Beck's fights with his long-suffering, saintly wife Julia are eavesdropped by the family below, utterly dependent on Beck for their continued existence. At one point, SS soldiers are billeted on the Becks - partying, dancing and bragging about the Jews they have killed, while four Jewish families live like frightened mice underneath the floorboards. Somehow, the families survive for 18 months under these unimaginable conditions.

The chapters which describe the period after the town was liberated by the Russians are particularly poignant, as the families tried to rebuild their lives, coupled with the horror of their saviours the Beck family being arrested for treason.

Clara Kramer has done the world a service by producing this book; it will be a valuable source for young people in particular who want to study the period, describing in detail the tedium and day-to-day difficulties of living in such cramped, unhealthy conditions for 18 months. Eating, washing, going to the toilet – the most basic human needs proved a constant problem in case of discovery. Despite the flaws in its writing, this book remains a testament to human spirit and survival.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: If you like this book, you might also enjoy Our Longest Days: A People's History of the Second World War by Sandra Koa Wing.

Buy Clara's War by Clara Kramer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Clara's War by Clara Kramer at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Clara's War by Clara Kramer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Clara's War by Clara Kramer at Amazon.com.


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