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The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister

The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister

3.9 289
by Nonna Bannister

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Nonna Bannister carried a secret almost to her Tennessee grave: the diaries she had kept as a young girl experiencing the horrors of the Holocaust. This book reveals that story. Nonna’s childhood writings, revisited in her late adulthood, tell the remarkable tale of how a Russian girl from a family that had known wealth and privilege, then exposed to


Nonna Bannister carried a secret almost to her Tennessee grave: the diaries she had kept as a young girl experiencing the horrors of the Holocaust. This book reveals that story. Nonna’s childhood writings, revisited in her late adulthood, tell the remarkable tale of how a Russian girl from a family that had known wealth and privilege, then exposed to German labor camps, learned the value of human life and the importance of forgiveness. This story of loss, of love, and of forgiveness is one you will not forget.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Russian refugee Bannister (1927–2004) rarely spoke about her brutal experiences under the regimes of Stalin and Hitler, not even to the American she married after the war. In this memoir, she reveals how a privileged childhood in the 1920s and '30s gave way to horror and loss in the 1940s. Although the sound quality of this production is poor (lots of rustling papers), Rebecca Gallagher does reasonably well with the multiple languages and wisely avoids attempting to replicate European accents. What is irritating, however, is the constant interruption in the form of unnecessary editor's notes, which make the narrative choppy and disjointed. More helpful is the seventh disc, which contains an interview with Bannister's husband and son, a precious audio reminiscence from Nonna herself, recorded in 1993, and abundant PDF materials, including maps, photographs and genealogical data. A Tyndale hardcover. (June)
Library Journal
Bannister, the proud daughter of Russian nobility, endured German forced labor camps, the loss of family and friends, and other experiences more commonly associated with the persecution of Jews and other minorities during World War II. Here, more than half a century later, she shares her story through self-translated diary entries and accounts of her family history. The diary text is greatly enhanced by the numerous editorial comments, which provide context, supplemental information, and some chronological orientation. Rebecca Gallagher (Why I Jumped) adeptly transitions between the diary and editorial text. Though this is a fascinating work, Bannister's Christian proselytizing can be annoying. Recommended for any adult interested in Holocaust materials; too graphic for kids. [Audio clip available through www.oasisaudio.com.—Ed.]—I. Pour-El, Ames Jewish Congregation, IA
From the Publisher

"In this account of Nonna Bannister's girlhood experiences in Europe during WWII, both horrifying and heartbreaking events take place.  But the most remarkable aspect of the story is Nonna's ability to hold on to the happy memories of her childhood, despite the pain that followed. Rebecca Gallagher's warm voice and bright delivery capture the coziness of Nonna's family life. Nonna’s darker memories are of fleeing Stalinist Russia, only to end up in a Nazi concentration camp in Germany, where her mother was killed. These passages Gallagher delivers with restrained emotion, which makes them even more powerful. Throughout, Gallagher projects the flicker of hope that never left Nonna entirely and allowed her to create a life for herself later on in America. Nonna’s positive outlook is further conveyed in an interview with her, as an elderly woman, at the end of the book." 
A.E.B.  2010 Audies Finalist - © AudioFile Portland, Maine

Product Details

Tyndale House Publishers
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5.64(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt


The untold story of Nonna Bannister

By Nonna Bannister
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2009

NLB Partners
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4143-2546-0

Chapter One Boarding the Train

August 7, 1942-Konstantinowka, Ukraine

It is fourteen hours and fifteen minutes (2:15 p.m.), and we were just loaded on the train! My God-this is not what we thought it would be like to make this journey! We are packed like sardines in a can into the cattle cars of the train. The German soldiers with their rifles are with us and Mama is scared. (I know that she is.) Mama still thinks we can get off the train and leave our luggage behind and walk home. There is Grandmother standing about twenty feet away, looking so shocked and in dismay-she is crying-with the tears running down her face as she waves good-bye. Somehow, I know that we will never see her again.

As the train starts to move, Mama and I just look at Grandmother until she is out of sight. At the hour of 1600 (4:00 p.m.) everyone inside our car is very quiet and nobody is talking. Some are crying quietly-and I am glad that I have my diary and two pencils.

I got into the corner as far as I could so I would have some room to write. Now the door of our car is open, but I can hear some noises from the top of the roof. The German soldiers had positioned themselves on the top of the train, and they are talking and singing-I think they are drinking-they sound drunk to me.

It is almost midnight-the moon is so full-and we are crossing large fields. I need to get closer to the door so I can get some fresh air. As I approach the open door, I see a pair of legs in black boots dangling right above the door-then this face leans down and the soldier yells, "Hi, pretty one!" and I get away from the door very quickly. Mama pulls me closer to herself, and I think I am getting sleepy.

August 8, 1942

When we wake up, we can look into the horizon and see the sun rising from the edges of the biggest fields that I have ever seen-it is a beautiful sunrise! Where are we? How close are we to Kiev? The train is slowing down, and it looks as though we will stop moving.

August 9, 1942

We are in Kiev, but the train stopped at least a block away from the large train station. The Germans jumped down, and I could see how many of them there were-we were surrounded. They were telling us to get out-"Raus, raus." We saw trucks approaching the train, loaded with German soldiers and German shepherd dogs (lots of dogs). There was a truck loaded with food (soup made with cabbage and potatoes, and there was black bread). They passed out some bowls to us, and as we walked to the food truck, I looked to the back of the train and I saw two cars loaded with Jews. They were not allowed to get out-the doors of their cars were barred with heavy metal bars, and the German soldiers were guarding them. I saw old men, women, children, and even some babies. They were begging us to give them some of our bread with their thin (almost skeleton like) hands stuck out through the bars. I started to go there with my food, but just as I got close to them, a German soldier shouted at me and commanded me to get back or he would shoot me if I dared come any closer.

SEPARATE CARS The Jewish prisoners, headed for concentration "death" camps, were in the same transport but rode in separate train cars from the Russian women, who were headed for the labor camps. The Nazis allowed the Russian women to leave their cars, go into the woods to relieve themselves, and eat. But they allowed no such privileges to the Jews.

August 9, 1942-late evening

When we got back into the car of the train (Car 8) and the train started to move, we thought that we were on the way again. But in fifteen minutes, our train came to a stop. Three trucks loaded with Jews approached our train, and the Germans loaded them into the first two cars of our train. It was close enough for us to hear the screams of the children, the wailings and moaning of the women. There were shots fired frequently. Oh! Those screams and cries! And the dogs-there were so many of them. It was mass confusion, and I became aware that we, too, were prisoners and that there was absolutely no way to escape as Mama had planned to do when we got to Kiev.

August 10, 1942

We are leaving the Ukraine now, and the train is moving fast. I will never forget the sight of the last sunset as we were leaving Kiev. The sun looked like a huge ball of red and orange fire, and it was moving down slowly against the horizon at the end of the endless fields. Almost it was as though the sun were saying, "Farewell, my dear-we shall never meet on this soil again!" As I stood there near the door of our train car, I kept looking at the sun until it had completely disappeared. Then I suddenly felt very sad and lonely. It was a "farewell" that made me feel that a part of me had died. Many sunsets and sunrises were thereafter, but never was one so beautiful as the sunset that I saw at Kiev.

"MANY ... WERE THEREAFTER" In some places it is difficult to distinguish what Nonna might have written during or just after the war from what she added later to her transcript. In this chapter, Nonna directly translates her diaries almost exclusively, though this comment reflects her backward look at this story from a late-twentieth-century point of view.

Now I know that we are heading into Poland, and Mama is beginning to make plans for us to escape when we make the first stop in Poland. The next stop is for a meal. We will crawl under the car and wait for everyone to get loaded, and we will get out quickly and run toward the wooded area. Mama is planning.


Excerpted from The secret HOLOCAUST DIARIES by Nonna Bannister Copyright © 2009 by NLB Partners. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Denise George, author of 22 books, has written more than 1,500 articles for Redbook, Essence, Guideposts, Christianity Today, Decision, Preaching Magazine, and more than 80 other magazine markets.  She is a judge for the 2008 Christy awards, has worked with Chuck Colson, and has written many of his BreakPoint commentaries.  She speaks internationally at higher-education institutions, pastors’ conferences, and other forums.  Denise is married to Dr. Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School, Samford University.  They live in Birmingham, Alabama and have two grown children.

Carolyn Tomlin has combined her educational career with writing and photography and writes monthly for The City News (Jackson, Tennessee), www.earlychildhood.com, Baptist & Reflector, and Children’s Ministry (Group Pub. Co.).  She is the author of eight books, including More Alike Than Different and First Steps in Missions, and is a frequent speaker for women’s ministries, teacher-training workshops, and writing conferences.  She is a native of Jackson, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, Matt.  They have two adult children and six grandchildren.

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Secret Holocaust Diaries 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 289 reviews.
shepherdboy More than 1 year ago
I could not put the book down. I was captivated from the beginning to the end. To see the horrors of the Holocaust through the eyes of a child is a life changing experience. I could amost see the events, hear the sounds of war and torture, smell the scents of the horrible events so vividly described by Nonna, and feel the emotions she so dramatically captured in her diaries. Nonna's story is one of tragic losses, horrible pain and unbleivable trials. Yet, it also a story of the courage of an individual's character, of faith in God and the sacrifical love for friends and family. It is also a story about forgiveness and hope.

I am grateful that Nonna Lisowskaja Bannister chose to remove her Holocaust diaries from the confines of their secret hiding place and share them with her husband, family and the world. I don't think I will be same after reading Nonna's story. I beleive all who read The Secret Holocaust Diaries will agree that Nonna's story had a life-changing impact on them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Honestly, how could you? While it did repeat information quite often, I don't think it retracted from the overall story. I couldn't put it down, wondering what would happen next in her life. It's an amazing story of courage and survival from one of the most horrific events in human history. All I can say is thank you to the family for passing on this personal account.
SusieTX More than 1 year ago
I have just completed this book and if anyone does not believe that God is in the details then they really must take a second look. We must learn from history so that it does not repeat itself and unfortunately in regard to the Holocaust we have not learned. My heart breaks for those poor souls that had to endure such horrors.
Napua More than 1 year ago
A raw first-person narrative about a Russian/Polish girl surviving the tumultuous WWII era in Europe. Nonna is a very natural story-teller who paints vivid tableaus of both joyous family life and horrific war crimes. My 2 major complaints are, 1) the book was overly edited with a horribly restructured timeline, 2) too many redundant/unnecessary explanations in the "editor's notes." This book is in dire need of better editing! I also wish that more was told about her journey to America and how she rebuilt her life after the war. But otherwise it is a truly moving story with sincere emotions that at times can be sickening or beautifully touching. Recommended (especially since it's free).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Knowing history is very important but this was too depressing. I wish I could take the violence of the subject but it was too much to handle. She's a hero for making it through this hell!
Jen_JenJL More than 1 year ago
I think the family did a wonderful thing by publishing Nonna's diaries and giving her a voice, even when she was unable to in her lifetime. From her writings, it is obvious that she was a kind and intelligent woman who overcame much adversity. I would have liked to have seen the pictures included that they spoke of in the dialogue. The documents were interesting, but the photos would have given face to the "characters." I also would like to know the REAL ending, if that is even a thing that can be known. Who WAS her paternal family and what happened to them? Her brother? I understand that many people disappeared without a trace during those years, but I also wonder how much research was done to find them? This book, however, paints an accurate picture of the horrors inflicted by inhumane people during WWII. It seemed to be Nonna's wish that by telling the story, people would not forget. Rest easy, Nonna. After reading your words, I will not forget.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a book that shares much history of Nonna's family. She obviously came from a rich family but money couln't prevent them from escaping the labor camps. I couldn't put the book down.
LizBiz More than 1 year ago
Liz here. Finished this wonderful, work of art yesterday. Although we can never imagine the horrors of the Holocaust, The Secret Holocaust Diaries illustrates them for us in this heart-tugging novel. Nonna tells us how peaceful and joyful life before the war was...and what happened after. I literally burst into tears in reading class because of how sad this book was. This book should NOT BE FREE. Memories that Nonna had before, after, and during the war are irraplaceable...and one of the many untold stories of the Holocaust survivors.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a pretty good book considering it was compiled by the family and not the author herself. It brings you into a world not expressly talked about when you think of Hitler's Germany in the times of the Holocaust. A life of a Russian young women in these trying times not only for the Jewish people. A look outside concentration camps which hold about the same horrors as within. Fear and discrimination in race for anyone not German. A sad but uplifting story of Nonna as she goes through these trials and eventually becomes free when she moves to America.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Glad to be able to get another first account of that horrible and tragic time. It is hard to imagine people living through such horrid things. It is something all nations need to remember and I pray it will never happen again. This book is a must read to recieve a first hand account from a survivor of WW II.
Fran Deane More than 1 year ago
Hanane ElMoumi More than 1 year ago
It is not your typical holocaust story, Nonna was not Jewish but Russian. Gives you a different perspective,
TRS1 More than 1 year ago
By far one of the better holocaust books I have read (I have read a number of them). It is very descriptive and quite original, coming from the Russian side which isn't heard too often in these tales. I thought about this book for days after I had finished it. If you are interested in this topic, read it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Highly recommended! The story of a young Russian girl and her mother who went to the German labor camps, concentration camps, intermingled with memories of her early childhood. Excellent!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sad & tragic, but a great first person encounter book. Makes you feel like you are there. I couldn't put this book down!!
Gammabug More than 1 year ago
This true story takes us into the horrors of WWII through the voice of a Russian girl, who, with her mother, is sent to a slave camp in Germany. Heartbreaking at times, but with the message that hope is always with us. Worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have read in a long time. Hard to put down. A very touching story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Where were all the pictures that were mentioned? That would have given more depth and impact to these memories. Interesting to see how so many suffered at the hands of the Germans and Russians during WWII
TrackGirl321 More than 1 year ago
I am a high school sophomore who had to do a research project. I thought The Secret Holocaust Diaries was  told in a proper manner because Nonna's wishes were to write the truth and nothing but the truth. Nonna wrote about her life, families, dreams, and poetry. I admire Nonna's literature because not only sorrow and enormity were recorded but courage and hope as well. Nonna witnessed a hullaballoo; through Nonna's diary you get a better understanding of what the Jewish people went through and their emotions. It was a struggle to put the book down because it was as intense as television show such as Grey's Anatomy. Nonna's life went from witnessing gruesome events to being happy and supported by her husband and three kids, when she moved to America in 1950. I recommend The Secret Holocaust  Diaries because it depicts that no matter what  struggle we are going  through, things will eventually be swell. The Secret Holocaust Diaries was meant for Nonna's eyes only, although I am glad she decided to share this historical event.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
:) Couldn't help but to keep reading (: Even though its like, the saddest true story ive ever read i coulnt wait to flip over to the next page. How could some withstand such a tragic life?
Brianna Martin More than 1 year ago
it was sad but informing its kinda like anne frank but told by a different young lady
asnow4sure More than 1 year ago
I love books about Holocaust survivors. This true account from a survivor was very moving. At times it seemed to drag, but on the whole it was very good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been obsessed with learning about the holocaust ever since we started that chapter in History class in early middle school. I guess I feel very connected with this topic for some reason. I guess that I just have such a hard time wrapping my mind around how someone could do something so terrible to so many people. I borrowed this book from a close friend of mine and I am usually a really slow reader, but with this book I had read over 60 pages in just an hour. I am absolutely in love with this story. It tears at your heart strings in some parts, makes you laugh and makes you cry. If you like true stories then you will like this book. Usually diary books I am not a fan of because they are usually right out of the diary word for word just short passages of what they wrote, but that is not the case in this book. Nonna's diary passages have been made into a chronological story and this is a great read!! 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a captivating book that I could not put down. Nonna was a strong child who witnessed horrible things  but it did not stop her faith and love for God and her family. I am thankful to Nonna that she chose to tell her story and her family who  supported her decision. I only wish Nonna was alive to see how her diaries has impacted everyone who has read her account of the  horrific injustice many suffered.    
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Moving story