Hanny Michaelis

Wartime Diaries, 1940-1945

The eagerly awaited one-volume selection from the acclaimed diaries of a woman in hiding

When the poet Hanny Michaelis’s diaries from the German occupation of the Netherlands were discovered after her death, they caused a literary sensation. The inevitable comparisons to Anne Frank soon gave way to a fuller appreciation of Michaelis’s more mature and knowledgeable voice. Now, for the first time, the most provocative, moving and relevant passages from her diaries have been brought together in a single volume.

Since 2016-2017, when her diaries were first published in two thick volumes, they have been showered with praise by critics and readers alike. The attractive new 400-page selection covers Hanny Michaelis’s most memorable experiences in secondary school, as a maid, and in hiding.

Even in her school years, Hanny’s adolescent crushes were set against the backdrop of impending war. In January 1942, she began working as a live-in maid in the household of an author. After her cultured upbringing, her menial status and duties came as a shock. Yet for a time, her position permitted her to go on reading, writing, and – despite the constant threat to her life – meeting well-known writers and artists. Romance blossomed between her and an older poet but came to an abrupt end when he was arrested.

From August 1942 until the war’s end, Michaelis went into hiding under a false name with a series of orthodox Calvinist families. While immersed in that unfamiliar subculture, she wrestled with her fears about her parents, deported in 1943, her anxieties about her own future, and her humiliating, exhausting experiences of slaving away for her often callous hosts. She confided her deepest feelings to her diaries: ‘Regret, remorse, homesickness, fear of the future, and the desperate knowledge that the world I had unwittingly loved with such passion had slipped away beneath my feet forever.’ Her sensitive, lyrical writing bears witness to her coming of age as a writer and a woman.

She was determined to remain in high spirits; despite the tears that welled up when the light was turned off on her first night in her new room, she wrote, ‘I don’t feel so very unhappy.’ According to a Dutch daily, the diaries offer gripping contrasts between ‘heights of optimism and pessimistic depths.’ Michaelis eventually learned that her parents had been murdered in Sobibor in 1943. She herself lived on to a ripe old age, becoming a celebrated poet. Her unique chronicle of a dark time survived with her, and this new edition makes her harrowing story more accessible than ever.

Rarely has the oppression of the war years seemed so close by.

de Volkskrant

Michaelis draws a consummate picture of the closed-off world of a person in hiding. A ‘hothouse life’, she calls it. […] Thanks to this diary, she survived her imprisonment. It is a miracle, from a person who kept herself going by writing.

A moving record of her struggle to maintain her dignity in an unfamiliar setting. […] A rich source of details about everyday life in the war. The language is carefully considered and ornate.


Monday, 7 October ’40 / ± 10:15

I just got back from our “shelter” in the stairwell. Even as I was writing, the anti-aircraft guns were going off at intervals—oh, they’ve just started up again, I’ll try to press on, but I’m worried there’ll be another air raid alert. Anyway, after ± a quarter of an hour, the sirens went off. The sound made my stomach knot up, and right away I started to shiver something awful. At this point we were sitting inside the stairs with Miss Neef. It was spooky how dark it was there, with bright flashes of light from flares flickering in through the window over the door now and then, and the four of us were shivering with cold and nerves. I was pressed up against Daddy, and each time we heard a thundering crash, I pinched him hard in the arm. Poor thing, he must be covered with bruises. I think I was chattering away the whole time, but I can’t help it. To me, there’s nothing as creepy and oppressive as sitting together in silence and hearing every bomb that lands, every shot fired, and every roaring engine without any distraction. It makes me miserable, so I try to keep the con- versation going as long as I can, even though I think Miss Neef can’t stand it – at least, she sometimes says things like “Your tongue never stops wagging.” It took about half an hour before they sounded the all-clear; we went outside and stood by the entrance for a minute to cool off emotionally (physically, we were cool enough). It was a beautiful night. The sky was filled with stars and the moon’s crescent hung, solitary, under a dark, heavy cloudbank. In the east, Venus twinkled with Saturn right next to it, and there was a faint smell of damp soil and grassland that calmed me down, at least a little. After the all-clear, you could see doors opening all over the place and people coming outside, all wanting some fresh air, of course.
The truth is, I’m not at all in the mood now to write about serious things. I should say that the sound of anti-aircraft fire has just started up again, and I can also hear engine noise in the distance. If this goes on much longer, it’ll be another tense night for us. I expect another air raid alert at any moment, but I know that when I do hear the alarm, it’ll come as another ter- rible shock. I’ll stop writing now. The noise is deafening again and I feel more than nervous – I’m scared that things are really heating up this time.


Hanny Michaelis

Hanny Michaelis (1922–2007) was born in Amsterdam. In 1941 she took her school leaving exams and shortly afterwards she and her parents went, separately, into hiding. They never saw each other again. Hanny’s parents were arrested in 1943 and were taken first to the camp at Westerbork and then…

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Oorlogsdagboek (2019). Non-fiction, 480 pages.

Sample translation available


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