Nonna Bannister, née Lisowskaja, was born to a Polish Jewish father and a Russian Orthodox mother in Taganrog, Russia. She had a happy childhood in a wealthy, well-educated family, and began keeping a diary at age 9. Her father Yevgeny Lisowskaja was savagely beaten and murdered at the outbreak of World War II. Fourteen-year-old Nonna and her mother Anna voluntarily went to Germany to obtain work, and found themselves in the hospital of a prison camp instead of a factory. Nonna, who spoke six languages, worked as a translator and kept notes of her experiences that she hid strapped to her body throughout the war.
Her mother was sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp and Nonna never saw her again. Her brother Anatoly also disappeared. After being liberated at the end of the war, Nonna spent some time recovering her health in a German hospital. She emigrated to the USA, where she met her future husband Henry Bannister at Tulane University in New Orleans. The couple married in 1951 and moved to Texas and then to Tennessee. She eventually shared her secret notes with her husband, but asked him not to make them public until after her death, so that she would not have to relive the memories. After she died at age 76, Henry Bannister typed up her story as a memoir. It was published as The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister in 2009.