The long-hidden diary of a young Polish woman’s last days during the Holocaust, translated for the first time into English, with a foreword from American Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt.
Renia Spiegel was a young girl from an upper-middle class Jewish family living on an estate in Stawki, Poland, near what was at that time the border with Romania. In the summer of 1939, Renia and her sister Elizabeth (née Ariana) were visiting their grandparents in Przemysl, right before the Germans invaded Poland.
Like Anne Frank, Renia recorded her days in her beloved diary. She also filled it with beautiful poetry she composed herself. She grew up, fell in love, and survived until 1942, when she was rounded up by the invading Nazis and forced to move to the ghetto in Przemysl with all other Jews. Renia was in the ghetto for two weeks, where she documented the horrors she faced in her diary. On July 28, 1942, her boyfriend, Zygmunt found a hiding place for Renia and his parents in the attic of a three-story tenement house. A day later, Zygmunt took Elizabeth out of the ghetto to stay with the Polish Leszczynski family, where she remained safe. The next day, Renia and Zygmunt’s parents were discovered hiding in the tenement house. They were murdered in front of the building by Nazis. Zygmunt survived to write the account of their death in her diary, and to finish Renia’s story.
Elizabeth, a child actress once called “the Polish Shirley Temple,” was brought by the father of the family to reunite with her mother in Warsaw. They lived under the Nazis, only to flee again during the Warsaw uprising in 1944. Eventually they escaped to Austria and got an affidavit of support to come to America, thus Elizabeth lived to tell the tale of their family in Poland who suffered unspeakable tragedy.
Elizabeth Bellak now lives in New York City. In Renia’s Diary, parts of Elizabeth’s own dramatic tale of survival are intertwined with her sister’s heartbreaking story. It contextualizes the more lyrical unfolding of the diary itself and rounds out the story of the diary’s survival. Renia’s Diary is a significant historical and psychological document. The raw, yet beautiful account depicts Renia’s angst through recordings of her daily life, and through her original poetry. It has been translated from the original Polish so the world can hear the story of her life and tragic death.
For more information about the incredible story of this diary, visit these Smithsonian.com pages: