Clara’s Story, as told to Joan Adess Grossman.

New York: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1984.

Story Summary: On the eve of World War II, Clara Heller and her family lived in Antwerp, Belgium. Her family moved there from Romania when her father, on his way to vote, was beaten because he was a Jew. In Belgium, the family was a prosperous member of the community and enjoyed religious freedom. Clara was a happy, active teenager, but her life changed dramatically when the Germans invaded Belgium. Her family attempted to flee without success, first to France, and then to England. Conditions deteriorated as the Jews were systematically stripped of their basic rights and freedoms. Clara’s family was helped by the Resistance, and had to go into hiding, moving from one place to another for two and a half years. Although her father and brother died, Clara and the rest of the family survived the dangers, hardships, and betrayal all too familiar during World War II, while also helping others to survive.


Students should be able to:

  • Explain the historical and social factors which helped to foster the Holocaust;
  • Recognize how Hitler’s rise to power slowly and systematically took away basic human rights from the Jews while fulfilling the social and psychological needs of the German people;
  • Give examples of how Jews were productive members of German society before Hitler’s rise to power;
  • Recognize the courage and determination of many of the victims of the Holocaust;
  • Explain the effect of Hitler’s regime on individual lives and the lives of Jews as a whole;
  • Empathize with the characters and understand how the Nazis shattered their lives; and
  • Find examples of the courageous acts of resistance shown by the characters in the story.

Suggested Topics for Discussion

  • Discuss how people change as a result of adversity in their lives. How are some people able to meet the challenges of adversity, while others are not? Describe changes you have experienced in your life as a result of adversity.
  • If you were only to read the chapter titles, explain what you believe the story might be about.
  • Why did Clara’s parents want to stay in Belgium despite the threat of Nazi terror?
  • How were the lives of Clara and Anne Frank similar and how did they differ?
  • The announcer on the radio said that Antwerp was being “liberated” by the Third Reich. Explain why this wording was chosen and what the announcer was really telling the citizens.
  • Give examples of how the Nazis used propaganda throughout the story. Tell why the use of propaganda is so essential to a war.
  • How would you describe Clara’s relationship with Sonya prior to the invasion and after the invasion? Explain what caused Sonya to act differently toward Clara. Do you believe Sonya truly understood why she had to sever her relationship with Clara?
  • On page 77 are the words to the song Mama left for Clara. Explain why you think Mama chose that song to leave her daughter.

Suggested Activities

  • Create a parallel time line. On the top of the time line note the dates listed in the book and the events from Clara’s life which correspond with each and on the bottom, using the same dates, note events that were occurring in other parts of Europe.
  • Design a new cover for the book and give it a new title based on the story. Display it for the class and explain the reason for your choice in title and design.
  • Choose a chapter in the book and rewrite it in a play format. Be sure to include stage directions, scenery, and set design in the final draft.
  • In the prologue Clara shares how Elie Wiesel influenced her decision to speak about her experiences. The author of Job also recounts a similar experience with Elie Wiesel. Research Wiesel and some of his well known speeches, such as his Nobel Prize address and the opening address at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Create a display board that highlights Wiesel’s personal history and accomplishments.
  • Design a piece of artwork based on one of the chapter titles.
  • Keep a double entry journal as you read. Draw a line vertically down the center of your paper and on the left describe the events you read about in the book and on the right write a letter to Clara about your feelings, reactions, and questions to the events.
  • Create a poster using drawings or pictures, which depicts the major events in the story. For each illustration write a caption.

Related Resources

  • Adler, D. (1994). Hilde and Eli. New York: Holiday House.
  • Adler, D. (1995). Child of the Warsaw Ghetto. New York: Holiday House.
  • Friedman, I. (1982). Escape or Die: True Stories of Young People Who Survived the Holocaust. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  • Gurko, M. (1988). Theodore Herzl: The Road to Israel. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
  • Oppenheim, S. (1992). The Lily Cupboard. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Orgel, D. (1988). The Devil in Vienna. New York: Puffin.
  • Petit, J. (1995). A Time to Fight Back: True Stories of Children’s Resistance During World War 2. London: Macmillan.
  • Ray, K. (1993). To Cross a Line. New York: Orchard Books.
  • Richter, H. (1987). I Was There. New York: Penguin.
  • Schloss, E. (1995). Dear Anne Frank. London: Penguin.
  • Siegal, A. (1985). Grace in the Wilderness: After the Liberation, 1945-1948. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.
  • Wilde, M. (1991). Let the Celebration Begin. New York: Orchard Books.
  • Yolen, J. (1990). The Devil’s Arithmetic. New York: Penguin.
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