book report: The Secret Holocaust Diaries by Nonna Bannister (2010)

Towards the end of her life, and forty years into her marriage, Nonna Bannister revealed to her husband her handwritten journals and reflections, along with mementos and artifacts, on her life in Russia before and during the communist revolution then life in Nazi Germany as a slave laborer. She lost her parents to the Nazis, and her brother to the unknown chaos of war. She came from a family of wealth and privilege in Russia. She still had in her possession a birthday greeting from the Tsar for a relative of hers. But the communist revolution started to constrict her family's life and her father sought many times to get his family out of Russia to no avail. Then the Nazis invaded.

The family did not evacuate, which made sense after the fact because the Russians bombed their own trains to keep them out of Nazi hands, even though they were crammed with their fellow citizens. Then they bombed the evacuated cities, even before the Nazi armies arrived, killing more of their fellow citizens. Nonna and her mother survived but her father was found by some drunken Nazi soldiers who nearly killed him. He survived, but only a couple weeks. There was nothing left for her and her devastated mother, so they volunteered to join the work force in Germany. They found out too late that they were an enslaved labor force.

Her story goes on until she arrives in Louisiana after the war and marries an American and raises three children. But the post war life is summarized and too brief to understand how Nonna lived her life in the shadow of the atrocities she witnessed and experienced.

This book is incomplete. The editors had plenty of material to work with. It is truly a gift of the family to share the personal history of one woman who did not want the Holocaust forgotten or denied. The editors might have spent more time researching the post-war life of Nonna, the immigrant, the wife, the mother, the grandmother, and church member so that the complete story could be woven together. I am sure there are many points of contact between her life before and after. It would have been wonderful to read this book with an interleaving of the diaries from Europe and Russia with anecdotes from America. Sadly, the editors chose to frequently and often unnecessarily comment with explanations of the diary entries, when she might have confused dates or times or names. Sometimes they "explained" things that were already clear from Nonna's own pen.

I picked this up for free in the Kindle store, so I can't complain about the price. It's interesting anecdotal history for the World War 2 or communist revolution reader, but it has potential to be a great book for the general interest reader someday.


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