“Today at 8 o’clock 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.”
—Renia Spiegel, July 1942
Although Anne Frank may be the most well-known victim of the Holocaust, she was not the only young Jewish girl who left a powerful record behind. Renia Spiegel, an 18-year-old who spent her final days imprisoned in a ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland, also kept a diary of her wartime experiences, now made public for the first time in the United States.
The 700-page diary, translated into English and published this month by Smithsonian magazine, was written when Spiegel was between the ages of 15 and 18 (1939-42) and living in southern Poland. It provides vivid insights into a young girl’s life tragically cut short, including funny stories about her friends, confidences about her boyfriend and searing observations about life under Nazi occupation.
On Nov. 8, the Smithsonian and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum co-hosted a panel discussion on Spiegel’s life and the story of the diary. The event included Elizabeth Bellak, Spiegel’s sister, and Alexandra Bellak, Spiegel’s niece, who described the family’s experiences during World War II and the diary’s eventual rediscovery in New York City.
“Reading Renia’s dramatic and moving diary, you realize in a direct and horrible way how life became increasingly dangerous—and finally, fatal—for so many Jews throughout Europe, and how quickly the world we think we know can completely change,” said Al Horvath, Chief Operating Officer and Under Secretary for Finance and Administration at the Smithsonian, in opening remarks. Watch the discussion below.
Image Credit: Courtesy of the Bellak Family
The Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative is supported in part thanks to people like you. Make a gift now and help us amplify women's voices, reach the next generation, and empower women everywhere.