Sometimes I Feel Like a Piece of Bologna

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Secret Holocaust Diaries

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

Nonna Bannister appeared to be a typical American housewife. She married Henry, the love of her life, in 1951 and together they raised three children in Memphis, Tennessee. But Nonna was far from average. For half a century, she kept her story and her photos, documents, diaries, and dark memories from World War II locked in a trunk in her attic while living a normal life. The result is an amazing book, The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister written by Nonna Bannister with Denise George and Carolyn Tomlin (April 2009, Tyndale House), which is the haunting eyewitness account of Nonna Lisowskaja Bannister, a remarkable Russian girl who saw and survived unspeakable evils during World War II.

I was particularly drawn to this book as I look at the direction our nation is taking. This week, Congress is considering a hate crimes bill that, if passed, will severely limit free speech and even free thought of free people in this land of the free. FEMA camps have been built to deal with anticipated civil disobedience. Nonna grew up in a free land. A child of privilege, she was surrounded by a loving family. But as the Germans moved into Ukraine, her family lost everything and experienced horrors that most of us can’t imagine. Somehow this child had the foresight to write a journal in six languages and hide it in a pillow ticking, along with many one-inch square photos of her family and friends in the Ukraine.

Years later, she would slip into the attic each night. Much later, after she told her husband, Henry, about her incredible past, she showed him the stacks of yellow legal pads on which she had translated her diaries and recorded her thoughts about her past. He typed them into a manuscript. However, she requested the diary not be published until at least two or three years after she died. Henry honored this request. (She died in 2004.) The story was very painful and reminded her of the suffering her family endured. When she came to America in 1950 she was determined to make a new life for herself and to give her husband and children a happy home.

Most of the stories we hear about the Holocaust are about Jews. Although approximately six million Jews were killed by the Nazis, other nationalities experienced suffering and death as well. Nonna's family was Russian and, according to the co-authors, owned seven grain mills and homes in southern Russia and the Ukraine. They were friends with the boy Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (nicknamed "Sasha") and his mother, Taissia.

Nonna kept her secret past from her family/friends because she had, at last, found such happiness with her husband, Henry, and her three children. She didn't want to express her past pain; she didn’t want it to interrupt the family's happiness and cast a shadow of despair over them.

Despite the horrors Nonna experienced, her story is also one of God's love and forgiveness. Nonna came out of the experience with her heart filled with love. She experienced none of the bitterness and hatred that some Jewish Holocaust survivors have held onto. She was able to marry, raise children, and bring them much joy and happiness through her own love and through introducing them to God's love. This is a book well worth reading as we face changes in our nation and in our families.

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