April 21 is Holocaust Remembrance Day. In honor of the day I thought it was fitting to start reading Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival based on the wartime diary of Clara Kramer and coauthored by Clara Kramer and Stephen Glantz. Clara was fifteen when she went into hiding with her family in her small Polish town after the Germans invaded. A total of eighteen people were taken in by a local Volksdeutsch family (ethnically German) for what would be a harrowing twenty months.
In the introductory notes Clara writes:
"Writing this book was like walking out of my kitchen door in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and straight into my home in Zolkiew. Although the events in this book happened over 60 years ago, they have never left me. As with many survivors, I relive them in the present."
"I am 81 years old, and I am one of the lucky ones. Ever since the day I left the bunker, I have done my best to live a worthy life. I have dedicated myself to the teaching of the Holocaust. The privilege of surviving comes with the responsibility of sharing the story of those who did not."
You can hear Clara speak briefly about her experiences in this short video (just click on the lower left hand button to start the video).
I've always been drawn to stories about WWII, particularly Holocaust survivor stories. I realize this sounds strange. How can anyone enjoy reading about what must be one of the most horrific periods in history? But in the face of man's inhumanity towards other men (and I'm using those terms generically here), these stories can be curiously uplifting as well. I mean, when there seems to be no hope whatsoever, help may come from the most unlikely source. And just what makes a person cling to life so tenaciously to survive against all odds and under the most dire conditions? I believe it is absolutely imperative that these stories be told and that they're also heard. Humans have an uncanny knack for repeating their mistakes, so we need to be reminded of our darkest days and just what we're capable of--both bad and good.
So, I totally expect Clara's War to be as "heart-stopping" as it's been described. It may not always be easy reading, but at least I have the satisfaction of knowing ahead of time that Clara is one of the survivors. I expect to post along the way as I read, unless of course I simply can't put the book down long enough to do so, and if the prologue is any indication, I expect this to be a gripping read indeed.
For more information on the Holocaust, I highly recommend The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's website, which is an excellent resource. The diary Clara Kramer kept during the war is part of the museum's permanent collection.