Monday, September 26, 2011

The Secret Holocaust Diaries by Nonna Bannister

Nonna Bannister was a Russian girl who came to America after losing her entire family during WWII. She married an American and raised a family in Jackson, Tennessee. Neither her new family nor her friends knew much about her former life. But, she had a story to tell, and she finally decided to share it with her husband in the 1990s.

Nonna had kept a diary since she was a young girl, but she hid her dairies and her Russian family’s photos, keeping them with her throughout her tragic journey from Russia to America. She had been a member of a wealthy Russian family, but they lost most of their property following the Russian revolution and in the run-up to WWII. Nonna and her mother fled Russia for Poland and then Germany, where her mother died in a concentration camp. Nonna was very ill at war’s end and was cared for in first a Catholic hospital and then an Allied hospital for a couple of years. When she was well enough, she persisted in her dream to come to the U.S. mainly because that’s what her parents wanted for her---to get out of Europe.

All of her original family were either dead or their whereabouts were unknown. So, Nonna put her old life behind her and started a new one. Through the years, she kept the diaries and the few mementos of her family, but she never showed them to anyone. She had a ticking-striped pillowcase that she had kept with her since Russia. Her husband said she slept with it every night and that she was buried with it when she died in 2004.

Working with the family, coauthors Carolyn Tomlin and Denise George compiled and edited Nonna’s writings for this incredible book. Nonna’s courage and endurance in the face of danger, loss, and illness is remarkable. She wanted her story to be told because she did not want the world to forget the atrocities that she witnessed at the hands of her own countrymen and the Germans.

I saw the promotional material about this book on Carolyn Tomlin’s website, and I knew that I had to read it. Luckily, I found it at my public library. I recommend that everyone interested in WWII and the Holocaust, read this book. The stories are as interesting as they are touching. It is well organized, and editors have made notes where Nonna’s diaries were unclear.

The book was published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2009. The publisher also provides a website where they provide additional information.

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