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

Odd Nansen; Tim­o­thy J. Boyce, ed.
  • Review
By – June 7, 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.

Relat­ed Content:

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

Discussion Questions