The diary of ‘Norway’s Anne Frank’

 Type:Culture, Literature

In 1942, the 22-year-old Austrian-born Jew Ruth Maier was arrested in the Nazi-occupied Oslo and sent to Auschwitz where she was killed immediately. Five decades later her diaries and letter were found by Norwegian poet Jan Erik Vold who edited and had them published, now also for the first time in English.

Ruth Maier kept a diary from 1934 until just before she was murdered in Auschwitz in 1942. Despite being only in her teens she shows a sophisticated understanding of the political forces shaping central Europe as well as extraordinary prescience. However, the book is much more than just historical documentation. In a lucid yet highly lyrical style, with an incisive talent for narrative and a sharp wit, Ruth explores universal themes of isolation, identity, friendship, love, sexuality, desire, morality, justice and sacrifice. Most of all, however, she seeks what it means to be a human being.

The diary came to light after the book's editor, Jan Erik Vold, found sections of the manuscript amongst the papers of Ruth's friend, the eminent Norwegian poet, Gunvor Hofmo, following her death in 1995. Published only recently for the first time in Norway, Ruth Maier’s Diary is one of the most moving testimonies to emerge from this dark period of European history. This book has been selected to receive financial assistance from English PEN’s Writers in Translation programme supported by Bloomberg.

Maier wrote in her diary about the deteriorating conditions for Austria's Jewish population following the Anschluss in 1938, her reaction to the many changes in her life, and her yearning for her family. Through her father's contacts, Ruth was able to find refuge in Norway, where she arrived by train on January 30, 1939. She was housed for some time with a Norwegian family, became fluent in Norwegian within a year, completed her sixth form exams, and befriended the future poet Gunvor Hofmo at a volunteer work camp in Biri. The two became inseparable, finding lodging and work in various places in Norway. Ruth was also the model for one of artist Gustav Vigeland's statues called ‘Surprised’, now on permanent display at the Vigeland Park in Oslo.

Maier rented a room in Dalbergstien 3 in Oslo in the early autumn of 1942 and was arrested on November 26 the same year and deported on the D/S Donau that day. Her friend Gunvor Hofmo had to be restrained from boarding the ship with her. Arriving in Auschwitz on December 1, 1942, she was led straight into the gas chambers where she died aged only 22.

Hofmo kept Ruth's diaries and much of her correspondence. She approached a publishing house to get them published in 1953, but was turned down. After she died in 1995, Vold editing them for ten years before they were published in 2007. Vold was highly impressed by the literary value of the diaries, comparing Ruth Maier's literary to that of Hannah Arendt and Susan Sontag.

Ruth Maier's Diary
Edited by Jan Erik Vold and translated by Jamie Bulloch.
Published by Random House, and priced £16.99

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Ruth Maier lived in Norway from 1939 to November 1942 when she was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. Her diary is now published in English.

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