Keilson, Hans. “1944 Diary”, translated by Damion Searls, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.
Nazis in the Netherlands
“1944 Diary” is an account of the Nazi-occupied Netherlands from one of Europe’s most powerful chroniclers of the Holocaust, Hans Keilson.
Hans Keilson was a German Jewish psychoanalyst who had sympathy for both the perpetrators and bystanders of the Holocaust as well as for victims and resisters. In the two books he previously published, he was hailed by critics and fellow authors as a genius.
After Keilson died at the age 101, a diary was found among his papers that cover nine months that he spent in hiding with members of a Dutch resistance group. The diary tells the story not only of Keilson’s survival but also of the moral and artistic life he was struggling to make for himself. Along with an encounter with a pastor who is sick of having to help Jews, and a day locked upstairs during a Nazi roundup in the city, the diary is full of reading notes on Kafka, Rilke, Céline, Buber, and others and is a feast of thought and reminiscence. Keilson had forcibly separated from his wife and young child, Keilson and was having a passionate love affair with Hannah Sanders, a younger Jewish woman in hiding a few blocks away. He wrote dozens of sonnets to her that struggled with claims of morality and of love.
The diary is a revelatory new angle on history we have heard many times before but this time it is very personal important novelists at a key moment of the twentieth century. Damion Searls who translated the novel sees it as a “spiritual X-ray of the mind and heart”. It is harrowing and beautiful at the same time and reveals a lot about the man who is still considered to be one of Europe’s most important novelists.