From Day to Day: One Man’s Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps

Vanderbilt University Press  2016


In contrast to most Holocaust memoirs or diaries, From Day to Day is one of a few diary accounts from inside Nazi concentration camps providing descriptions of the regular torturous and cruel existence of those sent to the Nazi KL. Although Odd Nansen was not Jewish, his diary of imprisonment as a “court hostage”—a prominent Norwegian who opposed the Nazi occupation of Norway—reveals much about his witness to the suffering of both Jews and non-Jews in Grini, Sachsenhausen, and Oranienburg, where he recorded the sadistic cruelty directed by guards towards its helpless victims.

Odd Nansen, the son of Arctic explorer, scientist, diplomat, and Nobel Prize laureate Fridtjof Nansen, was a prominent personality in Norwegian life in his own right. An architect by profession, he organized relief efforts for Jews and other refugees beginning in 1936. After the Nazi occupation of Norway in 1940, Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian politician, attempted to seize power but failed after the Germans refused to support his government. Quisling served as Minister-President from 1942 to 1945, heading the Norwegian state administration jointly with the German civilian administer Joseph Terhoven. Opposing the Nazi racist policies supported by Quisling, Nansen was arrested and sent to the Grini concentration camp.

Risking punishment for the discovery of his diary, Nansen described an area of the camp where emaciated Jews were penned in, many of whom were hunger-crazed, fighting for the scraps of rotten garbage. He wrote of the truncheon- wielding camp guards who severely beat Jews, one of whom he dragged to safety at a nearby wall when the victim collapsed at his feet.

From Day to Day was first published in 1949, and it has been 65 years since the last edition was published. In a 1956 poll about the “most undeservedly neglected book,” in the preceding quarter century, Carl Sandburg singled out Nansen’s Diary as an “epic narrative and a tribute to the human spirit to rise above torture, terror, and death.” Indeed, Nansen witnessed all the horrors of the camps, yet saw hope for the future. The preface to From Day to Day is written by Thomas Buergenthal, who appears as “Tommy” in the diary: a ten-year-old survivor of the Auschwitz death march whom Nansen met at Sachsenhausen supplied with extra rations when he could. Following the war, Buergenthal served as a judge on the International Court of Justice at The Hague, and was the recipient of the 2015 Elie Wiesel Award from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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