The War Diaries: World War II Written by the People Who Lived Through It

By Nina Siegal

Based on select writings from an exceptional Amsterdam archive containing more than two thousand Dutch diaries from World War II, The War Diaries illuminates a part of history we haven’t seen in quite this way before.

Nina Siegal, an accomplished journalist and novelist, weaves together excerpts from the daily journals of collaborators, resistors, and the persecuted—a Dutch Nazi police detective, a Jewish journalist imprisoned at Westerbork transit camp, a grocery store owner who saved dozens of lives—into a braided nonfictional narrative of the Nazi occupation and the Dutch Holocaust, as individuals experienced it day by day.

Siegal provides the context, both historical and personal, while she tries to make sense of her own relationship to this past. As a “second-generation survivor” born and raised in New York, she attempts to understand what it meant for her mother and maternal grandparents to live through the war in Europe in those times. When Siegal moved to Amsterdam, those questions came up again, as did another horrifying one: Why did 75 percent of the Dutch Jewish community perish in the war, while in other Western European countries the proportions were significantly lower? How did this square with the narratives of Dutch resistance she had heard so much about, and in what way did it relate to the famed Dutch tolerance?

Searching and singular, The War Diaries takes us into the lives of seven diary writers and follows their pasts into the present, through interviews with those who preserved and inherited these diaries. Along the way, Siegal investigates the nature of memory and how the traumatic past is rewritten again and again.

(Previously published as The Diary Keepers)

Format: Paperback
Release Date: 15 Feb 2024
Pages: 272
ISBN: 978-0-00-844773-1
NINA SIEGAL is an author and journalist who works as a regular contributor to the Culture section of the New York Times. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation at the University of Amsterdam’s research school for Heritage, Memory and Material Culture. In addition to working as a journalist since the 1990s, Siegal has published three novels. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to the Netherlands for her second novel in 2006 and ended up settling down in Amsterdam, where she currently lives with her daughter and her dog. Siegal has won many grants and awards for her writing, including a 2021 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant.

Praise for The War Diaries -

”'A beautiful, poignant book about the darkest period in modern Dutch history…This book gives a powerful voice to forgotten witnesses” - David de Jong, author of Nazi Billionaires

”'Nina Siegal has accomplished a remarkable feat. She has given us a day-by-day narrative of the Holocaust in the Netherlands by splicing together excerpts from a few of the hundreds of diaries stored in an Amsterdam archive…With thoughtful and insightful observations of her own, Siegal helps us understand how 75 percent of the 140,000 Jews of Holland, a prosperous and cultivated Western European country, could have been murdered, posing a warning for our own deeply fractured country” - Joseph Berger, author of Elie Wiesel: Confronting the Silence

”'An astonishing, essential book that asks us to bear witness to an unbearable history, even as it invites us to think hard about what history is—how it gets written, and what stories it tells. This book is powerfully moving and necessarily terrifying. By way of rigorous research and intimate storytelling, Nina Siegal brings us close to her diary keepers—making it impossible to turn away from the difficult, necessary questions their lives raise about survival, suffering, complicity, and memory” - Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams

”'Like an archaeologist excavating an ancient temple, Nina Siegal has dug up hundreds of stories of life under the unprecedented horror of Nazism, revealing the changing thoughts and shifting moods of heroes, villains, and victims. Until now, we only had a black-and-white image of these lives. Now, thanks to Siegal, we see them in living color” - Benjamin Moser, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Sontag