Nansen, a Norwegian, was arrested in 1942 by the Nazis, and spent the remainder of World War II in concentration camps--Grini in Oslo, Veidal above the Arctic Circle, and Sachsenhausen in Germany. For three and a half years, Nansen kept a secret diary on tissue-paper-thin pages later smuggled out by various means, including inside the prisoners' hollowed-out breadboards.
Unlike writers of retrospective Holocaust memoirs, Nansen recorded the mundane and horrific details of camp life as they happened, "from day to day." With an unsparing eye, Nansen described the casual brutality and random terror that was the fate of a camp prisoner. His entries reveal his constantly frustrated hopes for an early end to the war, his longing for his wife and children, his horror at the especially barbaric treatment reserved for Jews, and his disgust at the anti-Semitism of some of his fellow Norwegians. Nansen often confronted his German jailors with unusual outspokenness and sometimes with a sense of humor and absurdity that was not appreciated by his captors.
After the Putnam's edition received rave reviews in 1949, the book fell into obscurity. In 1956, in response to a poll about the "most undeservedly neglected" book of the preceding quarter-century, Carl Sandburg singled out From Day to Day, calling it "an epic narrative," which took "its place among the great affirmations of the power of the human spirit to rise above terror, torture, and death." Indeed, Nansen witnessed all the horrors of the camps, yet still saw hope for the future. He sought reconciliation with the German people, even donating the proceeds of the German edition of his book to German refugee relief work. Nansen was following in the footsteps of his father, Fridtjof, an Arctic explorer and humanitarian who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his work on behalf of World War I refugees. (Fridtjof also created the "Nansen passport" for stateless persons.)
Forty sketches of camp life and death by Nansen, an architect and talented draftsman, provide a sense of immediacy and acute observation matched by the diary entries. The preface is written by Thomas Buergenthal, who was "Tommy," the ten-year-old survivor of the Auschwitz Death March, whom Nansen met at Sachsenhausen and saved using his extra food rations. Buergenthal, author of A Lucky Child, formerly served as a judge on the International Court of Justice at The Hague and is a recipient of the 2015 Elie Wiesel Award from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
"A long-forgotten masterpiece. In his secret diary, written inside the Nazi camps, the Norwegian prisoner Odd Nansen paints a deeply affecting picture of everyday terror, sketching the inmates' lives and deaths with exceptional clarity and compassion. Rarely has the inhumanity of the camps been captured with such humanity. An invaluable document for anyone interested in the Nazi camps."
--Nikolaus Wachsmann, author of KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps
From reviews of the 1949 edition: "From Day to Day is unlike any other record of personal war experience which has yet appeared. There have been plenty of other accounts of imprisonment and concentration camps but none by a man like Mr. Nansen. Writing with no thought of publication, merely to keep a record for his wife and to express his own boiling emotions, Mr. Nansen somehow created a remarkable book. Using stolen paper and stolen time, always in fear of being caught, he described each day's adventures with stark simplicity and intimate authority. His book, although immensely long, is a continuously engrossing narrative. It is filled with vivid, concrete details, sharp character sketches, unspeakable horrors."
--Orville Prescott, New York Times
From reviews of the 1949 edition: "Most citizens, one hears, are fed up with books about the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps. But this book is different from all the others this reviewer has read. True, it does not slur over the unspeakable barbarities. But it rises above them and reminds us in never-to-be-forgotten pages how noble and generous the human spirit can be in the face of terrible adversity."
--William L. Shirer, New York Herald-Tribune
"This extraordinary diary by a non-Jewish victim of the Nazi regime and its collaborators is a rich historical document. Nansen's stunning illustrations provide a pictorial narrative into the concentration camp world he endured. Superbly translated by Katherine John, his text renders his experience in clear, muscular prose. We see through his eyes and imagine what he describes. We follow him, day by day, as his diary traverses three and a half years--an eternity at that time--and moves with him from the Norwegian camp system, the Norwegian regime, and occupied Norway to his perspective on the German camp of Sachsenhausen, the Nazi regime in Germany, and the final disintegration of the Third Reich.
Timothy Boyce's introduction frames the diary beautifully, setting the diary years into the larger picture of Nansen's life with just the right balance between the private and the public. And his extensive editorial notes provide guideposts along the way."
--Debórah Dwork, Rose Professor of Holocaust History, Director, Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and author of Flight from the Reich: Refugee Jews, 1933-1946
From reviews of the 1949 edition: "The first two-thirds of Day after Day can only be compared with Dostoevsky's House of the Dead; but compared with the last third of Hr. Nansen's book, The House of the Dead reads like Jane Austen. . . . It is a masterpiece. . . . The number of men who have successfully exploited the unique character of the diary as an art-form can still be counted on the fingers of one hand."
--Times Literary Supplement
"This is one of the most searing contemporaneous accounts of the Holocaust, but also one of the best written of the great documents of World War II. It is a profound indictment of evil, a daily diary of torment and torture, yet also somehow a deeply moving love letter. It should find a place on the bookshelf of every home, be taught in every school, made into a movie, and feted for what it says about man's capacity for humanity in the face of satanic loathsomeness. Mr. Nansen's decency and courage in the most vicious of circumstances shines through on every page; he personifies the civilization for which the Allies fought."
--Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War; Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945; and Napoleon: A Life