Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Secret Holocaust Diaries by Nonna Bannister

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Pages: 299
Genre: Non-fiction (Memoirs)
Series: No
Publication Date: 2009

Synopsis (From Back Cover):
For Half a century, a horrible secret lay hidden, locked in a trunk in an attic..... Photos, official documents, and scraps of a diary written by a nine-year old girl.....

I kept my secret my horror stories.
I am an old woman now.
It is time to tell my story.

The Secret Holocaust Diaries is a haunting eye-witness account of Nonna Lisowskaja Bannister, a remarkable Russian girl, who saw and survived the unspeakable evils of the Holocaust. For half a century, she kept her story secret while living a normal American life. She locked all of her photos, documents, diaries, and dark memories from World War II in a trunk. Late in life, she unlocked the trunk first to her husband, and now for the rest of the world. Nonna's is a story of suffering, torture, and death, but also a story of incredible acts of kindness that show the ultimate triumph of faith and love over despair and evil. The Secret Holocaust Diaries is a tragedy, yet an unforgettable true story about forgiveness, courage, and hope.


Upon first glimpse of the synopsis of The Secret Holocaust Diaries one is reminded of Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. While there are some similarity between the two there also are vast differences. The first being that Nonna Bannister was a Russian Christian and Anne Franks was a Jew. The second is that Bannister lived to write and revise her story while Frank did not.

The Secret Holocaust Diaries is a tale of how a young girl survives not only World War II but also the early years of Communist Russian. The reader gets snippets into the authors life during these troublesome years and get to see some of the hopes, joys and fears of Bannister as she narrates her early life. The one downside to Bannister narration is that sometimes the emotions that she tries to convey are flat and do not come through as well as one would hope. This could be because the "entries" are not directly from Bannister's diaries rather she wrote out her story based her diary entries and the reader only gets what she released. Bannister is able to reflect on her entries and included or take out what she wants. She may have excluded the emotional reflections in order to make it easier for her to complete her task.

It is always informative to read about history from those who have lived it. Reading memories like Bannister's and Frank's has a way of linking historical events in a way that is not done in a history class. Many people (self included) know something about World War II and maybe even less about the formation of the Soviet Union. The Secret Holocaust Diaries mesh this two events together and lets one see how they affected each other. There is a lot of information about the treatment of Jewish during Hitter's reign but Nonna's diary gives insight of the treatment of Christian captives during this time. It's interesting and heartbreaking to see the differences and similarities in the treatment of Germany's Christan and Jewish prisoners.

Nonna Bannister came from a remarkable family and in turn grow up into a remarkable girl. Both her and her mother used their abilities to make themselves assets to the Germans. Her mother was an acomplished painter and musician. Nonna had the ability to speak in six lanugauges. But the educational achivements of Nonna and her family also made them suspect while they were in the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities believed that Nonna's father was not loyal to their cause and while they were right, he just wanted what was best for his family.

There were some minor issues that can be found in the book. That can be because the copy used for this review was and ARC (Advanced Reader Copy). One of those issues were that the were repeated references to the pictures that Nonna was able to save and that were still around. But there were no pictures in the book. It would have been nice to see the pictures that Nonna was able to save. There also was a mention about the fact that Nonna father might have been Jewish. I don't think enough attention was paid to this speculation, which could be because Nonna didn't included but it was rather mentioned by the editiors. The editors Denise George and Carolyn Tomlin included historical clarifications and story references throughout the book. They were useful but sometimes they were misplaced or repetative. They would try to clarify stuff that Nonna wrote before the reader got to that point.

The editors also included serval appendixs that gave more insight into what is known about Nonna's family on her maternial side. Those were not reviewed or read but could be highly informative to those that are interested in getting futher information about Bannister and her family.

Pros: Informative, Writing, Characters
Cons: Emotionally Flat at points, Typos, No pictures

Overall Recommendation:

This book would be recommend to anyone who is interested in reading historical memoirs. Or is interested in finding out how people other than Jews were treated (even though there is attention to the treatment of Jews).

Other Reviews:

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