Other Frank Incidents Depicted…
1939… The 15-year-old girl decided to keep a record of her experience in a diary. Renia Spiegel used to live in a small Polish town with her elderly grandmother. The German forces took control of their city at the end of that year. After that, Renia got just three years to write down her experiences in the diary. She was shot dead by the Germans on the street of a Nazi ghetto a week after her 18th birthday. A magazine published a part of her diary in English 76 years after Renia’s death.
Born in Uhryńkowce in Tarnopol Province on June 18, 1924, Renia started her diary in January 1939 and documented her last words on July 30, 1942. In the 700-page diary, she not only described her fears and terror during the creation of the ghetto in Przemyśl, but also wrote some poems and songs. Interestingly, the last lines in the diary were written by her fiancé, Zygmunt Schwarzer. Schwarzer ended it with his account of her death and that of his parents: “Three shots! Three lives lost! All I can hear are shots, shots.”
The Jewish teenager was hiding with Schwarzer’s parents to survive the Nazi torture. However, the Nazis managed to trace the three and gunned them down. Schwarzer, who was in another place at that time, discovered the diary later and handed it over to Renia’s mother, Róża. Róża and her younger daughter, Ariana, survived the war and moved to the US. Neither Róża nor Ariana could bring themselves to read it and (so) the diary lay “dormant”, said Ariana’s daughter Alexandra Bellak, who decided to send it for translation.
On the very first page of the diary, Renia wrote: “Why did I decide to start a diary today? Has something important happened?” She added: “No! I just want a friend. Somebody I can talk to about my everyday worries and joys. Somebody who will feel what I feel, believe what I say and never reveal my secrets.”
Ariana Spiegel as a child, with Renia sitting behind her. Photograph: Bellak Family Archives
In a happier moment with Schwarzer on June 20, 1941, Renia wrote: “We had another wonderful evening. The stars started to emerge, and the moon floated up, and we sat next to each other and talked. When we left, it was dark; we couldn’t find the way. We got lost. It was all so sudden and unexpected and sweet and intimidating – he said, ‘Renuska, give me a kiss,’ and before I knew it, it happened.”
After the WWII began, the teenager narrated how the Jews were cornered and sent to a separate area by the Nazi forces. “Remember this day; remember it well. You will tell generations to come. Since 8 o’clock today, we have been shut away in the ghetto. I live here now. The world is separated from me and I’m separated from the world. Leaving the ghetto without a pass is punishable by death,” she wrote on July 15, 1942.
Ariana and Alexandra Bellak, pictured in Poland in 2017. Photograph: Bellak Family Archives
Renia was desperately missing her mother as she was in a different city. The daughter wrote to her mother: “Israel, save us, help us. You’ve kept me safe from bullets and bombs, from grenades. Help me survive! And you, my dear mamma, pray for us today, pray hard. Think about us and may your thoughts be blessed. Mamma! My dearest, one and only, such terrible times are coming. I love you with all my heart. I love you; we will be together again.”
A page from Renia Spiegel’s diary. Photograph: Bellak Family Archives
Naturally, Renia’s diary has drawn comparisons to Anne Frank for her moving account of life as a Jew during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Some even call her the ‘Polish Anne Frank‘.
Talking to the media, journalist Robin Shulman said: “Readers will naturally contrast Renia’s diary with Anne Frank’s. Renia was a little older and more sophisticated, writing frequently in poetry, as well as in prose. She was also living out in the world instead of in seclusion. Reading such different firsthand accounts reminds us that each of the Holocaust’s millions of victims had a unique and dramatic experience.” The journalist stressed: “At a time when the Holocaust has receded so far into the past that even the youngest survivors are elderly, it’s especially powerful to discover a youthful voice like Renia’s, describing the events in real time.”
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