The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 8 Jun 2016
The Secret Holocaust Diaries was the memoir of Nonna Bannister (née Lisowskaja), a non-Jewish survivor, written by herself prior to her death in 2004, and edited and further contributed by Carolyn Tomlin and Denise George. She was born into a family that lost much wealth during the Soviet collectivization but somehow managed to offer her a happy childhood. Everything changed when the Germans turned on their former allies, however, and she found herself becoming a forced laborer in Germany alongside her mother. Although she ultimately survived with great health, she nevertheless experienced horrors that unfortunately happened far too often during the Holocaust, such as being a witness to the murder of a Jewish infant, being a witness to a mass execution, and losing her mother in the final days of the war. As I always noted, memoirs, biased by definition, should never be considered true works of history, but works such as this provided valuable accounts to how historical events affected individuals and their families.
I had two further notes of interest. First, I made a mental note that the author had failed to note at all the German Soviet joint-invasion of Poland; the fact that she failed to name the Soviet Union as one of the aggressors that started the European War was the typical result of war-time (and post-war) propaganda, and this was particularly interesting to me. The other note came about after I had finished the book and looked up more information about it on the web. I came across several reviews raising doubts on the legitimacy of Nonna Bannister's story, citing the impossibility for her to have wondered out of a prison camp to accidentally stumble into a mass killing, the unlikeliness for a forced laborer to have been granted leave to do sightseeing, and the convenient fact that the most important pieces of evidence that supported her story had disappeared and said to be probably unknowningly buried with the author inside her favorite ticking pillow. I had no opinion on whether the stories were true or not.
I had reviewed this title in its audio book format; Rebecca Gallagher did a fine job with her reading. The audio book publisher included a recording by Nonna Bannister at the end; this was definitely highlight of the audio book. Through her voice you could hear her enthusiasm in passing down her story, her regret in not embarking on such a project earlier in her life, and her naïveté (for example, believing that Adolf Hitler must have attended church every Sunday).
I had enjoyed The Secret Holocaust Diaries, despite the doubt raised by some reviewers across the web. It placed names and faces to the otherwise anonymous statistics that were the dreadful results of the Holocaust.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939