Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Secret Holocaust Diaries by Nonna Bannister - REVIEWED

About the Book:

Nonna Bannister carried a secret almost to her Tennessee grave: the diaries she had kept as a young girl experiencing Nazi atrocities while learning compassion and love for her fellow human beings. Nonna's writings tell the remarkable tale of how a Russian girl, born into a family that had known wealth and privileges, was exposed to the concentration camps and learned the value of human life and the importance of forgiveness.

"How this story came to be written is a big part of the drama. The only World War II survivor of her wealthy Russian, devout Christian family, Nonna Lisowskaya came to the U.S. in 1950, married Henry Bannister, and never spoke about her Holocaust experience ––until a few years before her death in 2004, when she revealed her diaries, originally written in six languages on paper scraps that she had kept in a pillow strapped to her body throughout the war. Now those diaries, in her English translation, tell her story of fleeing Stalinist Russia, not knowing what was waiting in Hitler’s Germany, where she saw her mother murdered in the camps, escaped a massacre of Jews shot into a pit, was nursed by Catholic nuns, and much more." ~Hazel Rochman, March 1, 2009 (Booklist)

"Nonna Bannister recounts her personal travails in the first person singular, in a real time account, with touching simplicity and directness - yet with brutal honesty. Bannister rejects any temptation to embroider or hype the raw brutality, tragedies and stark deprivations that were experienced and endured by her family and herself. Bannister remembers the young Nonna as a victim who refuses to be a victim. This absence of any semblance of self pity is made more ringing by her evident joy in recounting through her diaries her fond early memories of family life, and by her faithfulness, when confronted with unspeakable horrors, in practicing a philosophy for life learned at her father's knee - "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Perhaps it is the influence of these twin philosophies - joy and forgiveness - that make this such a special and unique book. Nonna and her family were subjected to many of the worst excesses of the Bolsheviks under Stalinism, were caught in the vice of war between Russia and Germany, and "escaped" into the hell of Nazism. This book gives first person account of the travails of that passage and does so in that manner that shows the reader the real face of true humility. This is a book for the ages." ~ Dr. Edward J. Coyne, Sr., Samford University

This is the first account I’ve actually read of someone surviving/experiencing the Holocaust that wasn’t Jewish. Nonna Bannister was a young Russian girl sent to a work camp when the Germans invaded the Ukraine. This is just a part of WWII that I know little about, and while Nonna’s experiences were not those of the Jews, it was no less horrific or traumatic.

This is not an easy book to read, but I think it is a real testimony of God’s sovereignty even amid the horrors of war. I loved the remembrances of her close, loving family – of their celebrations, reunions and just loving each other through daily life. I imagine those sweet memories were partly responsible for Nonna surviving mentally and emotionally as well as she did. The fact that she not only survived, but later married and enjoyed a family of her own – that’s just a greater testimony of abundant grace!

I cannot fathom the pain, the loss, the absolute horror of some of the experiences remembered by Nonna Bannister. I am, however, humbled and amazed that she took the time to write them down, translate them, and save them to later be shared with others. That speaks of a strength that only God can provide….and only when it is needed. He is faithful when man’s evil seems to be impossible to overcome. I am so thankful for the reminder of this promise, and I pray that should these dark times ever come to my door that I will face them in the same strength that Nonna Bannister displayed throughout her lifetime.

Amazing. God is so faithful! Nonna Bannister’s faith…amazing!

Read the book preface here.

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