Reviewed by Claudia R.

“Three centuries ago, Sobieski laid cobblestones in our town with the command that they welcome Christians and Jews equally. Our forefathers walked down these streets with a new hope, a Hatikvah of their own, they could live and flourish and pray and raise their families here in peace. For most of those 300 years, Sobeieski’s legacy was a canopy, a chuppah, which wed us, Christian to Jew, and protected us. And now, blood washed down the same cobbelstoned streets.” ~ Clara’s War

Clara’s story begins in Zolkiew, 1939, during World War II. A normal Polish-Jewish teenager, Clara suddenly finds her life turned inside out as their sleepy town becomes embroiled in a power struggle. They find themselves spending nights outside under the stars with other families as bombs drop from the skies onto the rooftops of their homes.

Eventually being on the street is no longer safe; the Russians have abandoned them to the hands of the Nazi invaders, leaving no protection from the almost ritualistic daily slaughter. Jews are being taken away in cattle cars to concentration camps, killed in the streets, the woods, their houses taken over for NAZI soldiers to despoil, children, men, women tortured, starved to death in vicious, cold hearted acts of hatred and violence.

Only the kindness of the Becks, their German housekeeper Julia, her alcoholic husband Valentine and their pretty daughter Ala, at the risk of losing their own lives, keeps Clara and 17 other people alive. They are given the dirt bunker under the Beck’s house in which to carve out a ‘home’ and place for survival, with only a carefully constructed hatch in the floorboards as contact through which the outside world is filtered through.

In painful detail Clara takes the reader through her life underground. Starvation, dehydration, fleas, heat, bed bugs, near hysteria, all a daily part of their lives, and the struggle to find inner coping mechanisms that will allow them to wait out the war, or death, whichever God brings first. With pallets for beds, buckets for bathrooms, 18 strangers become inseparable and utterly dependent on the others for sanity and survival. Every sound above them, every conversation, reverberates through the bunker, names of loved ones and the atrocities they have endured at the hands of the Nazi regime. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, siblings, the list is endless, names upon names, inexplicable horror, death upon death. Hope, as well as food and water, ebbs and flows daily through the small portal of reality for 20 months.

Only with one blue pencil and copy books, does Clara manage to record in infinitesimal detail the travesty, injustices, tragedy and heartaches, and combine them with the triumphs, kindness, bravery, small but crucial victories and power and strength of the human spirit with an indomitable will to survive against all odds into a harrowing tale of survival, where even a sneeze could be the difference between life and death.

Clara’s War depicts in agonizing and honest simplicity a story complex with fear, drama, hatred, determination, trust, love and prayer. Even at the worst of times, Clara takes the reader to a place where family means more than the fear of death, where prayer is power and trust is unconditional. The reader will despair with Clara, anguish over her losses as well as cry out with joy as the story blends the horror of the Holocaust with the generosity of the human spirit.

Beautifully written, heart wrenchingly honest, Clara’s War is a book for any reader interested in the shaping and growth of our world and the strength and perseverance of the people who carved the way for future generations.

Hear about the story in Clara’s own words.

Claudia lives on Cape Cod with her husband and two children. She entertains her passion for reading in between providing services to help empower and improve the lives of low-income residents.