Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Secret Holocaust

"The Secret Holocaust Diaries"
by Nonna Bannister, Denise George, and Carolyn Tomlin

The Secret Holocaust

I read a lot of books, and I do not feel obligated to comment on all of them. However, now and again one crosses my desk that moves me more than the others. These are the books I learn something from. I come away afterward knowing more and thinking a lot more about myself. This book, the published diaries of Nonna Lisowskaja Bannister, is one such book.

Any account of the Holocaust should move you. It was a horrible, dark time in the world's history, and one that it is virtually impossible to wrap one's mind around. Like all school children, I was taught about the events that surrounded it, how it affected the world, and the genocide of the Jewish people. Yet in reading Nonna Bannister's personal account, I learned so much that I still did not know.

Nonna Bannister was born Nonna Lisowskaja in the Ukraine. She grew up as Josef Stalin was taking power and communism began to come into effect. I admit, past a very basic knowledge, I was ignorant of the more personal effect of this time in history. It's easy to read a general historical account where death figures are given and its another thing entirely to read it in the words of someone who was there. And yet, this someone was at that time a child. Her child's eye view made it all that much more poignant.

When World War II broke out and Germany swept into Russia, Nonna's family found themselves thrust into the midst of it. Here again, was something I had heard of - how Germany broke the non-aggression pact between these two countries, only to find themselves frozen, starving, and unable to accomplish their task. But put it on a personal level, in the words of one family whose love for each other cannot stop the greed of man, and it is horrifying.

The story descends from her happiest of childhood memories to a scene where her elder brother is gone, sent away to prevent his being placed into the communist army. Her father, found hiding in a basement, has been beaten, his eyes carved out, and her mother is left scrounging amongst the emptied homes of people who have fled the country, to find a place for them to live, food for them to eat, and firewood to warm them in what was the coldest Russian winter. Eventually, there is nothing left. Their relatives are killed when Soviet trains are bombed, and Nonna watches her father die, sees a German soldier plunge his knife into him just to prove he is dead. All I could think was, "These people were not Jewish." I had never considered how high was the cost to other races of people, like the Soviets.

Nonna and her mother, in the belief that it would be better for them, voluntarily left their homeland and to live in work camps in Germany at places like Flossenberg. (I had never heard of Flossenberg before reading this book. It is well worth your time looking it up.) Here they are eventually separated and just weeks before the liberation of Germany, her mother is killed following an illness brought on when her arms and fingers were broken in a fit of Nazi rage. When the war ends, Nonna alone was left of her family. Yet the truth is that she was not alone because this happened to so many others.

Nonna Bannister hid her diary and her photographs throughout the war, and even after the war, after she married in 1951, she never told her story to anyone not even her spouse. This book is the result of her own translations of her diaries. (It includes the authors' additional historical notes.) Following her death, the original pages of her diary were never found. Her family supposes they were somehow buried with her.

I encourage you to read this book, but not for entertainment, nor because it is a literary-genius work. No, read it so you will learn something, so you will be grateful for what you have and to help you remember what others have given up.

There are a selection of Nonna Bannister's images online, which can be viewed at this link.

Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

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