Diary of a Concentration Camp Survivor

Follow one man's journey to survive and document his time in a Nazi concentration camp.


| November 2016



Diary

Odd Nansen kept his diary safe by sewing it inside sleeping bags and hiding it in bread boards while captive in Nazi Germany.

Photo by Fotolia/felix

From Day to Day: One Man's Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps (Vanderbilt University Press, 2016) by Odd Nansen is the real-time diary of a Norwegian architect who survived a World War II concentration camp. Nansen describes the casual brutality and random terror that faced camp prisoners over the course of three and a half years. This excerpt from the foreward describes how Nansen was able to keep his diary a secret as well as the arrest that eventually led to his time in the concentration camps.

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Introduction

This is a diary and makes no claim to be anything else. I was in the habit of keeping a diary, so it was natural to continue after my arrest on January 13, 1942. Paper and writing materials were the last things I put in my knapsack before going off with the district sheriff and his henchman, up in the mountains at Gausdal. I began to write the very next day in my cell in the Lillehammer county jail and kept it up for nearly three and a half years. For reasons easily understood I wrote the diary in a very small hand on the thinnest of paper. The writing was so small that the typists had to use a magnifying glass.

I never wrote with the idea that what I was writing would be published. I was writing for my wife, to let her know what was happening and how I was getting on — and also to arrange my ideas. Therefore the diary may often seem rather too personal, even though most of the private matter has been cut out. I couldn’t cut it all out, I felt, without taking from the diary too much of its character. For it is the case that a prisoner thinks a very great deal about his wife, his children, and home.

Friends, both outside and inside, thought that a diary like this might be of interest beyond my immediate circle. I feel that they may be right, and so here it is. I should explain that it has been cut down to about a third of the original manuscript. I found much that ought to be cut, and could be cut, and it has turned out long enough.

The manuscript of the diary from August [22] to October 4, 1943, was unfortunately lost. As this period was of decisive importance to me, and for what happened later, I have restored it from memory. Otherwise the diary is the original text, with nothing added, corrected, or rewritten.

As time went by inside the barbed wire, writing became a great help to me. It was like confiding in a close friend and relieving my mind of all that weighed on it — it became a private manner of forgetting. I was happy in my invention and grew more and more inventive when it came to hiding it and disposing of what I wrote. At Grini, where I very soon made myself at home, there was no great difficulty. There were hundreds of hiding places that no German ever found out. We had a main storehouse of “illegalities” in the main drain which opened out from the furnace room through a secret tunnel. In pipe shafts in the main building, behind pipes and wires, we had “inflammable” objects, hanging up in bags between the stories. We had hiding places on the farm, in the workshops, under stumps and stones out in the fields, in hollow table tops and legs, in shelves with double bottoms, and in floors, ceilings, and walls in all the buildings in the camp. None of the many searches carried out in my time led to the discovery of anything really vital. Not a single page of the diary ever fell into the wrong hands, not a single important letter or single news bulletin.