Thursday, September 24, 2009

I wonder what I'd do

I'm almost done with Clara's War, Clara Kramer's memoir about hiding from the Nazis in a bunker under a neighbor's home in Poland during WWII.

As I read, it's not really trials of the families who are living in what we'd call a crawl space that really grip me. I know it's horrible: Living for years in a space where the ceiling is so low you can't even stand up … subsisting on potatoes and bread for so long that simply eating an apple gives you diarrhea ... having to use the toilet in front three families ... waiting to hear word about how your cousins, classmates and grandparents are doing, or if they're dead …

Perhaps it's too horrible. That could be why I can't relate.

Instead, it's the Becks that fascinate me. They are the German Poles who hid a total of 18 Jews -- including Clara -- under their home. They knew that if the bunker was found, the Becks would meet the same fate as Clara. Julia Beck cleaned houses and worked for Clara's family. Her husband was a big-talking anti-Semite who drank too much. Part of why the Becks were so successful in hiding the families under their home is that Beck was known to be very proud of his German heritage and so contemptuous of Jews.

Why did they do it? Because they believed in God. It seems to be that simple and that powerful. "We are in God's hands," or "It's out of our hands," made up Beck's oft-repeated refrain in response to whether all them -- upstairs and down -- would survive.

Naturally, reading this, I can't help but wonder what I'd do in the Beck's position. And I hope I never, ever have to find out.