I first read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl in the 7th grade and that was what kick-started my love, obsession, and fascination with WWII. Many years and many books later, when one our sales reps sent me a copy of Renia’s Diary, I knew I had to read it.
From the Front Flap:
Renia Spiegel was born in 1924 to an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Poland. By the fall of 1939, Renia and her younger sister, Elizabeth (nee 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, daily drama with her 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. 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, afterwards, and notes by her surviving sister, Elizabeth Bellak. With this extraordinary historical document, Renia Spiegel survives through the beauty of her words and the efforts of those who loved her and preserved her legacy.
This diary, oh it left me in tears. It took me this long (it was released over a month ago, I read it three months ago) to really find the right words to describe how it make me feel, and I feel like I still haven’t, but it’s a book the world really needs to know about. As our society becomes more and more polarized and people become more hostile to people not like them, we find the need for the voices of groups who have been oppressed and persecuted in the past. In 70 years, will we have the voice of a young Mexican woman’s experience trying to cross the border?
Renia’s writing is spectacular, not just with the qualifier that she wrote the journal as a teenager, but overall, it is stunning. The way that she write about love and loneliness, war and injustices, it absolutely astonishing – it’s writing of a quality in a journal/diary that I have rarely read before. And as the Anne Frank comparison is such a strong on, on writing style, Renia’s is stronger. In additional comparisons, Renia is out in the world and only goes into hiding at the very end of her life, and therefore diary. Renia’s glimpse of the world struggling and suffering around her makes her diary feel more of a sociological approach to the Holocaust, in terms of how so many different groups of people were interacting, versus Anne’s single and limited group of people.
As I talked about a bit in my review of The Book Thief, my grandmother is German and has never spoken of her experiences during the war with a single exception – she talked very briefly with my sister about the end of the war for her senior collegiate thesis. We know a few details – she spend the war with her grandparents and separated from her mother, similarly to Renia, but beyond that, we don’t know anything really. She wasn’t Jewish, though her father may have been a communist – he was missing for most of the war – but I know absolutely nothing about my German family beyond my grandmother’s much younger brother (he was born after the war) and I know his daughter – there are only 3 people on that side of my family that I have ever met or learned anything about.
This unknown nature of my family past has driven me to learn whatever I can about the time and place she lived, so I can understand Renia’s niece being driven to have her aunt’s diary translated, and I’m so glad she did – I’m so grateful for the ability to read Renia’s own words (though translated) and that her story is now out there for the whole world to read.
Rating: 10 out of 10 stars
Renia’s Diary is the perfect gift for…
lovers of all things WWII, particularly Anne Frank’s story. Also a great gift for memoir lovers and those who most love to cry at the ends of their favorite books.
Where to Buy
In the USA, I recommend purchasing through IndieBound or your local independent (most of us received signed copies from the publisher!), in the UK, and many other parts of the world, I recommend Blackwell’s, and if neither of those cover where you live, I recommend checking out your local booksellers! Independent bookstores are vital parts of every local community and I wholly endorse supporting your local stores versus Amazon.