This week marks the fifth anniversary of the republication of From Day to Day: One Man’s Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps.
What a fantastic five years it has been—and that’s even including the last 12 months! Little could I have imagined the many wonderful people I would meet along the way, each with their own story, often touching upon World War II experiences—theirs, their family’s, their relative’s, or their friend’s. Some of these stories I have shared in the 170+ blogs I’ve written since 2016. (A few are here, here, here, and here). Not to mention the many wonderful friendships I formed along the way, with Tom Buergenthal, Marit Greve, Sten Vermund, and many, many, others
Looking back, I still marvel at how a six-line footnote included by Tom Buergenthal in his 2010 memoir, A Lucky Child, and read by me the same year, could so unalterably change the direction of my life, for it introduced me to an unknown Norwegian named Odd Nansen, and to a diary he had written years before I was born.
A while ago I came across this passage in a book review written by Robert Darnton, Director Emeritus of the Harvard University Library:
“We commonly think of books as containers of ideas or wrapping for literature, but they can be understood in other ways—as if they were blood cells carrying oxygen through a body politic or data points as infinite as the stars in the sky. Books lead lives of their own, and they intersect with our lives in ways we have only begun to understand.”
Years ago, I might have scoffed at this notion, dismissing it as pure fantasy, but now I’m not so sure. The number of coincidences—serendipity I call it for lack of a better term—that seem to attend everything about Odd Nansen’s diary is simply uncanny. Maybe the diary does have a life of its own? Maybe it was just waiting for someone to come along and bring it back to life—when the time was right. I’ve written about serendipity a number of times: here, here, here and here.
Here is the latest example of serendipity.
Earlier this year I received a purchase order for a copy of Nansen’s diary through my website. It was notable in that it was the first and only purchase order I’ve received over the past five years from someone outside the U.S. The buyer was located in Austria. I did a Google search of the address and learned that the buyer, Christiane P., lived near Vienna. In confirming the order, I wrote Christiane and happened to mention that I had visited Vienna in December 2018, and had had a wonderful time in the Austrian capital. Christiane replied that the next time I visited Vienna I needed to let her know, as she gave tours there, focusing on its experience in World War II, with an emphasis on the rise of Hitler and Hitlerism.
Well, I responded, when in Vienna my wife and I had indeed taken a tour much like the one Christiane was describing. In fact, I still had a photo on my camera of our tour guide—could Christiane be one and the same person? Her response: Yes–it was her! Now, I had not mentioned my book to Christiane during our tour, and she could not have possibly have remembered my name after the passage of over two years, and yet she, of the many millions in Europe, reached out to me based on her interest in learning about a Norwegian named Odd Nansen and his World War II diary.
Coincidence? Serendipity? You tell me. Whatever is at work here, I only hope it keeps up for the next five years!
And to you, my readers, I offer my thanks for all your past and future support, whether by way of word of mouth, reviews on Amazon, suggestions for presentations, and the like. Without your help, the continued high level of interest in Odd Nansen’s diary after five years would be impossible. In 1949, despite rave reviews in all the major U.S. papers, the book went to a second printing before going out of print. Today, we are on our fifth printing, and demand remains strong. All thanks to you.