Saturday, August 8, 2009

Book: The Secret Holocaust Diaries The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister

I read this book in less than 24 hours cover to cover. I couldn't put it down. It was like I had to know how she survived and got away from Germany after World War II.

Nonna's story like so many others who suffered at the hands of the Germans is at times horrific and total sorrow comes over you. But to know that God made a way for her to be safe and protected from the Nazi's is a miracle.

In this blog I will be sharing about the book and also excerpts from the book. The stories that really tore at my heart.

The Secret Holocaust Diaries is a haunting and eyewitness account of Nonna Lisowskaja Bannister, a remarkable Russian-American woman who saw and survived unspeakable evils as a young girl. For half a century, she kept her story a secret while living a normal American life. She locked all her photos, documents, diaries, and dark memories from World War II in a trunk. Late in life she unlocked the trunk, first for herself, then for her husband, and now for the rest of the world.

Nonna's story is one of suffering, torture, and death--but also of incredible acts of kindness that show the ultimate triumph of faith and love over despair and evil. The Secret Holocaust Diaries is in part a tragedy, yet it's also an unforgettable true story about forgiveness, courage and hope.


Below are 2 stories from the book that really hit me hard and I wanted to share them with you. Warning. They are very graphic and quite upsetting

Nonna's Papa is found

When the Russian soldiers came to Nonna's home town in Russia to evacuate because the Germans were invading Nonna's father decided it would be better if he, Nonna and her mother stayed at their home hoping that the fact her father and she spoke fluent German they could talk to the German Soldiers and convince them to not harm them.

When the Germans came to their town Nonna's father sent Nonna and her mother to a neighbors home for safety, while her father stayed behind and hid in the cellar where he had dug a tunnel in the cellar wall for a hiding place. While hiding in the tunnel for days he caught a cold. 2 German soldiers came into the cellar and began drinking their home made cherry wine. The soldiers got drunk and started talking loudly. Suddenly Nonna's Papa had to cough and when he did the Germans found his hiding place dragged him out of the tunnel and beat him and gouged out his eyes!

Nonna's mother and Grandmother brought him to a deserted home where they were staying and nursed her Papa. However due to the injuries he sustained he died a few weeks later. About an hour after her father passed away Nonna was alone with her father while her mother was out and 2 German soldiers broke into the house. When Nonna told them her father had died they didn't believe her and one of the soldiers to his bayonet and stabbed her father through the heart in front of Nonna. When they new her father was dead they took some food and left the home.

A few months after Nonna's Papa died, Nonna and her mother were convinced by the Germans to go work for them in Germany. They promised a place to live, sleep and good food and a job. We know that was a lie and they were actually being imprisoned to work in the labor camps in Germany. This was the story that totally broke my heart when I read it I sobbed for over an hour.

This excerpt from the book starts out as Nonna and her mother are on the train to Germany in cattle cars filled with other women and children. The train stops and the door opens. The SS soldiers distribute a piece of bread and a cup of water to them. When Nonna sees a little boy....

Our car sat there; we could hear the activity outside, and we knew that there were alot of soldiers and SS men scurrying about. The dogs were barking, very excited with all the activity that was taking place. The Germans slid our rail car door open about eighteen inches or so and fed us a piece of bread, and they gave us some water in some kind of old rusty metal cups. The bread was dark in color and it was just a chunk as if the dough had been spooned onto a pan and baked. It certainly did not look good. As the Germans were feeding us, my attention was drawn to a rail car loaded with Jews. Their rail cars did not have doors, but had iron bars across the door opening.

My attention was caught by a small boy who was standing inside the car, with his mother holding him by his thin little shoulders. He had his frail little arm sticking out through the bars and was making a begging motion with his little hand. As I looked at him, he was not much more than a skeleton, and his head seemed to be larger than normal. His eyes were deep set in his head and appeared to be very large. My attention was drawn to this little boy and while I knew that there were a lot of things happening. I stared at this young boy and his skinny little hand begging.

I decided that I was going to give my bread to this young boy, but I needed to get out of the rail car and sneak over to where I could hand it to him through the bars of his car door. I slid through the opening in our door and down to the ground. The Germans were very busy, and if they saw me, they didn't say anything. I ran over to the Jewish rail car and handed the chunk of bread to this young boy, who was murmuring something that was barely above a whisper. I knew that I had to hurry back and get into our car, but just as I turned around, the Germans were rushing toward the Jewish car along with their dogs, and they were shouting, "Raus, Raus!"

As they unloaded the Jews from their car I was caught up in this large group of people. A German soldier pushed me into the crowd and said, "If you want to feed them, join them!" The Germans were using large sticks and the dogs to herd this crowd of people toward a large field, and I was trapped in this rush of people and was being herded along with them. I was scared and I kept looking back at the car where Mama and the other people were. However, the Germans continued to push, directing this large group of people toward the large filed. As I looked back, I saw the little boy and his mother just a couple of feet away and he was still clutching the chunk of bread in his little hand.

The German soldiers and the SS men were driving the crowd toward this open field where we could see a few Jewish men digging a large ditch. It started to rain, and everyone was running to keep ahead of the German soldiers and their dogs. Everyone seemed to know that we were going to be executed but did not dare to stop or try to escape . Whne we got to the ditch, the Germans made the crowd seperate and line up in front of the large ditch that had been dug by the Jewish men. The little boy grabbed me and pulled me in front of him. His mother was clinging to his skinny little shoulders as they tried to stay together. The Germans started at the other end of the large ditch and made the men who had dug the ditch strip off all their clothing and stand their naked. All that I could think was, "how did I end up here?" I was thinking of Mama back at the rail car knowing that she was frantically looking for me.

Then the Germans began to shoot those poor people one by one in the bnack of their heads, and they just toppled over into the ditch. They moved down the line of Jews, shooting them with their pistols the stos sounded more like large firecrackers than guns. However, everyone knew what was coming and as the Germans were three people away from this little boy and his mother and me, he grabbed me and gave me a havy push into the ditch, which was now a muddy mess a mix of mud and blood of those who were being executed.

I landed face down in the mess, with my head, face and body covered in this blood y mud. It seemed like just a moment but I heard this little boy's mother scream, "NATHAN!" as the Germans shot both of them. Nathans body landed on top of me and he did not move his little body did not have much weight, so I lay there very still. I was afarid to move even a little finger. I had turned my head so I could breathe before Nathan landed on top of me, and I lay there for what seemed to be an terenity before I opened my eyes after the shooting stopped and the german soldiers had moved away from the ditch.

When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was Nathan's body lying on top of me, still with the little piece of bread clutching in his little hand.

After it was all over, Nonna crawled out of the ditch and made her way back to the rail car where her mother was but she never forgot little Nathan and how he saved her life. Now you understand why I cried for over an hour.

How did Nonna survive?

Nonna and her mother worked at a Labor Camp for some months. Then they were transferred to a hospital to work, and because Nonna spoke 7 different languages she was very much needed to translate because of all the different soldiers coming through the hospital for treatment.

Nonna stayed at that hospital until the war was over. She was kept hidden by the Nuns, priests and doctors that worked there. They even changed her name to protect her. Nonna's mother was not so lucky she was shipped off to a concentration camp to be killed because the Germans found out that during their trip from Russia to Germany a woman had ran up to their rail car and handed her a baby. It turned out to be a Jewish baby. The German soldiers took the baby and killed it but also reported that Nonna's mother had tried to help the Jews. So she was labeled a political prisoner and just days before the Americans freed the concentration camp she was at the Germans put her in the Incinerator.

Nonna was the only survivor of her entire family and she was just in her late teens by the time the war ended. After the war she fulfilled her fathers dream and moved to America.

These 2 parts of the book are what totally hit me to my soul. I hope you have enjoyed learning about Nonna and her life. Please if you love this blog you must read the book. Never forget that there is true evil out there and we must continue to fight it to keep this from ever happening again.