Diane Armstrong: From Holocaust Survivor to Bestselling Author - Hope 103.2

Diane Armstrong: From Holocaust Survivor to Bestselling Author

A fine balance between fact and fiction, The Wild Date Palm is based on a true story of family espionage in World War I.

By Georgia FreeMonday 17 Jun 2024Hope Book ClubPodcastsReading Time: 5 minutes

On the latest episode of Hope Book Club, Georgia speaks to bestselling author and journalist Diane Armstrong. Diane is a child Holocaust survivor, who fled Poland with her family in 1948.

Key Points:

  • An epic novel, The Wild Date Palm explores the fate of ordinary people whose mission collides with the secret agenda of powerful countries.
  • After countless magazine submissions of her work, Diane was she was published in the Australian Women’s Weekly – and, thus, her writing and journalistic career began.
  • Love great books? Join the Hope Book Club Facebook community and to never miss an episode subscribe to Hope Book Club wherever you get your podcasts.

She has written eight books, mainly focusing on historical war fiction. Her latest novel The Wild Date Palm is based on a true story of family espionage in World War I.

Surviving the Holocaust

Born in Krakow, Poland to Jewish parents just before World War II began, much of Diane’s early childhood was spent in hiding – under assumed identities. In 1941, once German occupation spread to the eastern part of Poland, Diane’s family fled to a village where no one knew them – which caused suspicion among the locals.

“Luckily, my father, who was a dentist, became the village dentist,” Diane told Hope Book Club.

“And even more lucky for us, there was a new priest in the village [who] was very fond of my parents and loved playing chess with my father.”

Diane’s family tried to hide their Jewish identity by going to church every Sunday, and changing their Jewish names, however, rumours continued circulating among the village, causing fear that they may be exposed.

“There was one incident, I must have been maybe four years old, and a man stopped. I was playing in front of the house where we lived, and [he] stopped outside watching me,” Diane said.

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“After a while, he said, what’s your name, little girl? And I told him the name that we had changed to sound less Jewish.

“And he said, ‘yes, but what was your name before?’ And I apparently stamped my foot, and I said, that’s always been my name. And he went away.

“My father had been standing in front of the door watching and listening to this frightening exchange because our lives actually hinged on my answer.”

“It was really just the friendship of the priest that saved us,” Diane said.

Apart from that, Diane’s family remained relatively safe in the village for several years.

“It was really just the friendship of the priest that saved us,” Diane said.

“Priests had an incredible moral authority and no one really wanted to go against him when he made it quite clear that he was our friend.

“That saved our life.”

Piszczac, 1943. Diane is standing between two village children, taking part in a religious procession. Diane (right) with her cousin Krysia, in Krakow, 1946. Only a year or two before leavin

Image 1: Piszczac, 1943. Diane is standing between two village children, taking part in a religious procession.
Image 2: Diane (right) with her cousin Krysia, in Krakow, 1946. Only a year or two before leaving for Sydney.

Fact vs fiction – a fine balance

Diane arrived in Sydney when she was nine years old – learning English quickly and developing a passion for reading and writing. After countless magazine submissions of her work, she was published in the Australian Women’s Weekly – and, thus, her writing and journalistic career began.

Over her illustrious career, Diane has penned six novels and two non-fiction books. Her family’s memoir Mosaic was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and the National Biography Award. Her debut novel, Winter Journey, was also shortlisted for the 2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize.

Most of her novels, including her latest The Wild Date Palm, are in the genre of historical war fiction – which can often be a fine balance between fact and fiction.

Facts and history can’t be fiddled with. The dates, the times, the places…all these things are true and obviously I’m going to have them as they were,” Diane said.

“What I can fictionalise are relationships, conflicts between people, relationships, and I can invent people.

“It’s like a paradox, because as we know, truth is often much harder to believe than fiction. Fiction has to somehow be more realistic than fact. I have to try and make what is basically unbelievable believable for the reader.

“And I do this by making it more personal. So many people who’ve read [my books] have said to me they can’t believe that all this really happened. But that’s the challenge, to make fiction believable when it’s based on something that isn’t.”

Piszczac 1944. Diane in the village of her childhood, where her and her family had to conceal their Jewish identity.

Piszczac 1944. Diane in the village of her childhood, where her and her family had to conceal their Jewish identity.

About The Wild Date Palm

During a train journey across Turkey’s Anatolian Plain in 1915 during World War I, Shoshana Adelstein witnesses the slaughter of the Armenians and knows she has just come face to face with her destiny.

Convinced that her Jewish community in a small outpost of the Ottoman Empire will soon meet a similar fate, she is desperate to save her people. Enlisting a group of co-conspirators, this young woman forms a clandestine spy ring. Conquering almost insurmountable obstacles, they risk betrayal, torture and death to spy on the Turks and pass on intelligence to the British to help them win the war.

This epic novel explores the fate of ordinary people whose mission collides with the secret agenda of powerful countries, people ready to risk everything to rescue their communities. But can individuals affect the fate of nations? And when life is at stake, how far will we go to reach the limits of our dreams?

Listen to the full episode in the player above, on the Hope 103.2 app, or wherever you get your podcasts. And don’t forget to join the Hope Book Club Facebook community.

For more of Diane’s work, visit dianearmstrong.com.


Article supplied with thanks to Georgia Free. Georgia is a scientist-turned-radio presenter, who has been at Hope 103.2 since 2018. Georgia has also hosted Hope Weekends, and currently hosts the Hope Book Club and Finding Hope podcasts.

All images supplied.