Whenever we hear about diary entries and the Nazi occupation, the first thing that comes to mind is Anne Frank and her diary, as almost everyone has heard of it. Unknown to many, during that same time, there was another girl who was also writing her diary entry during World War II, as she witnessed the daily atrocities around her and described her day-to-day life, love life, and everything in between. Her name was Renia Spiegel, and her diary tells us her the Nazi occupation through her eyes.
Beginning of their Lives
Renia Speigel was born on June 18, 1924, in a family comfortably living in Uhryńkowce in Tarnopol province, Poland. She had one sister, Ariana, who was a child celebrity and had performed in the famous stage of “Cyrulik Warszawski” and appeared in some films before the war. People would usually compare Ariana to Hollywood child star Shirley Temple. The girls’ parents were already separated, and they were sent to live with their grandparents, who owned a stationery store in Przemyśl. She was fifteen at that time, while Ariana was nine.
Her sister would soon move to Warsaw with their mother so she could pursue her career. At the end of the summer, Ariana was visiting her when the war broke out. They fled the bombardment of Przemysl on foot, but when they returned, the town was already under Soviet occupation.
Two years later, Renia wrote in her diary how she had her first kiss with a Jewish boy named Zygmunt Schwarzer, the son of a doctor and a concert pianist. The two had a friend named Maciek Tuchman, and the three became inseparable.
Love and War
“Wherever I look, there is bloodshed,” she wrote in one of her entries. Because of the Nazi invasion, Renia and her Jewish friends had to wear white armbands with a blue Star of David. They were forced into the ghetto, where more than 20,000 Jews were condensed behind a barbed wire. Renia wrote, “I live here now; the world is separated from me, and I’m separated from the world.”
Meanwhile, Zygmunt became a part of the local resistance. Luckily, he managed to take Renia and Ariana out of the Warsaw ghetto before the Nazis began deporting the Jews to concentration camps. The attic of a tenement house where his Pole uncle lived became the hiding place for Renia and Zygmunt’s parents. The next day, he took Ariana and gave her to the father of her Christian friend.
Lives Lost But Not in Vain
On July 30, a few days after Renia’s 18th birthday, the Germans discovered her and Zygmunt’s parents. They were ordered to march out to the street and were shot. When Zygmunt returned to the building the next day, he saw Renia’s diary and held onto it just for a brief time before hiding. Anguished, he scribbled the last entry,
Three shots! Three lives lost! It happened last night at 10:30 p.m. Fate has decided to take my dearest ones away from me. My life is done. All I can hear are shots, shots… Shots! My dearest Renia, the last chapter of your diary is complete.
As for little Ariana, she miraculously made it out. Her friend’s father, the man Zymunt trusted to take her and was a member of the resistance, took Ariana, and they traveled to Warsaw. Whenever Gestapo officials stopped them to inspect the train with their dogs, he would say that she was his daughter. She managed to escape Poland in 1944 and was back in her mother’s custody. The two lived in New York City. She also took up the name “Elizabeth.”
As for Renia’s 700-page diary, it had been published in Poland and translated into other languages for sale in other countries. Elizabeth also set up a foundation to honor her sister, the Renia Spiegel Foundation. It focuses not only on Renia’s diary but as well as supporting Polish literature through literary festivals, concerts, exhibitions and other forms of promotion of literature and reading.
Renia’s diary was an eye-opening account that describes the horrors that the people had to endure on a daily basis during the Nazi occupation, all while including the emotions and thoughts of a teenager. This makes her diary an important piece of literature.