The Holocaust is one of the most horrifying, arguably THE most horrifying, event in history. Stories of survivors resonate with readers to this day, such as NIGHT by Elie Wiesel, which details his experiences in concentration camps. Many others didn’t survive the atrocities inflicted by the Nazis, most famously being Anne Frank, whose diary is considered a classic. Renia Spiegel is another young girl who kept a diary during the time of the Nazis, but at an earlier point in time, as Renia died the same year, Anne Frank starts her diary.
Renia was a young Jewish girl visiting her grandparents in Poland when the Nazis invaded Poland. Her diary offers readers a bittersweet portrait of a girl preoccupied with the usual teenage angst over peers and teachers, along with a longing to see her mom again. However, she also documents through her young eyes as the war starts to escalate, and they are rounded up into ghettos. Even more poignant is her account of her last birthday and the actions of the Nazis that night. Her sister’s commentary at the conclusion of RENIA’S DIARY helps fill in the historical gaps as she has the perspective of time to view what happened, making Renia’s words all the more horrifying.
RENIA’S DIARY is interspersed with poetical interludes as Renia pours out her heart to her diary. Readers may want to read the section entitled “Elizabeth’s Commentary” first to better appreciate the events of Renia’s short life. My heart aches even now for such a warm, spirited life being snuffed out so easily simply for the “crime” of being a Jew. RENIA’S DIARY isn’t an easy read due to the subject matter, but it is a necessary read and easily recommended.
The long-hidden diary of a young Polish woman's life during the Holocaust, translated for the first time into English
Renia Spiegel was born in 1924 to an upper-middle class Jewish family living in southeastern Poland, near what was at that time the border with Romania. At the start of 1939 Renia began a diary. “I just want a friend. I want somebody to talk to about my everyday worries and joys. Somebody who would feel what I feel, who would believe me, who would never reveal my secrets. A human being can never be such a friend and that’s why I have decided to look for a confidant in the form of a diary.” And so begins an extraordinary document of an adolescent girl’s hopes and dreams. By the fall of 1939, Renia and her younger sister Elizabeth (née Ariana) were staying with their grandparents in Przemysl, a city in the south, just as the German and Soviet armies invaded Poland. Cut off from their mother, who was in Warsaw, Renia and her family were plunged into war.
Like Anne Frank, Renia’s diary became a record of her daily life as the Nazis spread throughout Europe. Renia writes of her mundane school life, her daily drama with best friends, falling in love with her boyfriend Zygmund, as well as the agony of missing her mother, separated by bombs and invading armies. Renia had aspirations to be a writer, and the diary is filled with her poignant and thoughtful poetry. When she was forced into the city’s ghetto with the other Jews, Zygmund is able to smuggle her out to hide with his parents, taking Renia out of the ghetto, but not, ultimately to safety. The diary ends in July 1942, completed by Zygmund, after Renia is murdered by the Gestapo.
Renia's Diary has been translated from the original Polish, and includes a preface, afterword, and notes by her surviving sister, Elizabeth Bellak. An extraordinary historical document, Renia Spiegel survives through the beauty of her words and the efforts of those who loved her and preserved her legacy.