Renia Spiegel was born on 18 June 1924 in Uhryńkowce, then in Poland and now in western Ukraine, to Polish-Jewish parents Bernard Spiegel and Róża Maria Leszczyńska.
Like many other teenage girls Renia kept a diary. She started hers when she was 15, on January 1st 1939, 9 months before German and Slovak troops invaded Poland.
Renia Spiegel had just turned 18 when the Nazis found her in hiding and murdered her. But her 700-page diary survived. Rather then me telling you her story, I will let Renia’s words do the talking. Below are just a few excerpts from her diary. The pictures I used are of Renia and her sister and mother, to show the contrast of the happier times. Her last name Spiegel translates to Mirror. Let we use her words as a mirror to our souls.
“January 31, 1939
Why did I decide to start a diary today? Has something important happened? Have I discovered that my friends are keeping diaries of their own? 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. No human being could ever be that kind of friend.
Today, my dear diary, is the beginning of our deep friendship. Who knows how long it will last? It might even continue until the end of our lives.
In any case, I promise to always be honest with you. In return, you’ll listen to my thoughts and concerns, but you’ll remain silent like an enchanted book, locked up with an enchanted key and hidden in an enchanted castle. You will not betray me.
First of all, allow me to introduce myself. I’m a student at the Maria Konopnicka Middle School for Girls. My name is Renia, or at least that is what my friends call me. I have a little sister, Ariana, who wants to be a movie star. (She’s been in some movies already.)
Our mother lives in Warsaw. I used to live in a beautiful manor house on the Dniester River. I loved it there. There were storks on old linden trees. Apples glistened in the orchard, and I had a garden with neat, charming rows of flowers. But those days will never return. There is no manor house anymore, no storks on old linden trees, no apples or flowers. All that remain are memories, sweet and lovely. And the Dniester River, which flows, distant, strange and cold—which hums, but not for me anymore.
Now I live in Przemysl, at my grandmother’s house. But the truth is, I have no real home. That’s why sometimes I get so sad that I have to cry. I miss my mamma and her warm heart. I miss the house where we all lived together.
Again the need to cry takes over me
When I recall the days that used to be
The linden trees, house, storks and butterflies
Far… somewhere…too far for my eyes
I see and hear what I miss
The wind that used to lull old trees
And nobody tells me anymore
About the fog, about the silence
The distance and darkness outside the door
I will always hear this lullaby
See our house and pond laid by
And linden trees against the sky…
But I also have joyous moments, and there are so many of them. So many! Let me introduce some of my classmates to you.
September 6, 1939
War has broken out! Since last week, Poland has been fighting with Germany. England and France also declared war on Hitler and surrounded him on three sides. But he isn’t sitting idly. Enemy planes keep flying over Przemysl, and every now and then there’s an air raid siren. But, thank God, no bombs have fallen on our city so far. Other cities like Krakow, Lwow, Czestochowa and Warsaw have been partially destroyed.
But we’re all fighting, from young girls to soldiers. I’ve been taking part in female military training—digging air raid trenches, sewing gas masks. I’ve been serving as a runner. I have shifts serving tea to the soldiers. I walk around and collect food for the soldiers. In a word, I’m fighting alongside the rest of the Polish nation. I’m fighting and I’ll win!
March 16, 1940
Nora and I have decided that ten years from today, wherever we are, whether we’re still friends or angry at each other, in good health or bad health, we’re going to meet or write to each other and compare what’s changed in our lives. So remember: March 16, 1950.
I’ve started liking a boy named Holender. We’ve been introduced to each other, but he’s already forgotten me. He’s well-built and broad-shouldered. He has pretty black eyes and falcon-like eyebrows. He’s beautiful.
April 24, 1940
Terrible things have been happening. There were unexpected nighttime raids that lasted three days. People were rounded up and sent somewhere deep inside Russia. So many acquaintances of ours were taken away. There was terrible screaming at school. Girls were crying. They say 50 people were packed into one cargo train car. You could only stand or lie on bunks. Everybody was singing “Poland has not yet perished.”
About that Holender boy I mentioned: I fell in love, I chased him like a madwoman, but he was interested in some girl named Basia. Despite that, I still like him, probably more than any other boy I know. Sometimes I feel this powerful, overwhelming need…maybe it’s just my temperament. I should get married early so I can withstand it.
December 8, 1940
Suddenly, I love him like crazy. Just think, everything was about to go dormant and today it sprung back to life. Nothing happened—but still so much! He played with my hood, stroked it, came closer! Wonderful Zygus, wonderful, so wonderful!!!
Hey, let’s drink our wine
Let’s drink from our lips
And when the cup runs dry
Let’s switch to drinking blood
Wanting and yearning
Inspiration and love burning
Let them start a fire
Let rage burn like pyre
But remember, girl, that flames
travel in your veins
that blood can burst you from inside
Wanting and yearning
Inspiration and love burning
Let them start a fire
Let rage burn like pyre
Both wine and lips are red
One life before you are dead
Our hearts are hungry, young, on fire
Only for each other beat.
Remember, girl, that flames
travel in your veins
December 10, 1940
You know, when I see Zygus, I have this blissful, pleasant feeling that’s unpleasant at the same time. Something paralyzes me. Ah, that idiot, if he only knew how much I love him. There’s an invisible thread connecting us. It can break, but no…If we could really be together, it would be wonderful and terrible at the same time! I don’t know. I have no idea what’s happening to me.
April 27, 1941
Mamma, I’m so low. You know, sometimes I find excuses for Zygus. For example, he didn’t come to see me and I said it was just because he was feeling shy (he is easily embarrassed!). Today, poor, dear Granny made a clumsy attempt to help me feel better, but instead she only lacerated my already bleeding heart. It will take a while for it to heal. I don’t know why this day feels so dirty.
May 20, 1942
Yesterday Z. came to pick me up from my job at the factory and we walked out holding hands. Orchards are in blossom, May is shining with its blue skies and I’m shining, too, with joy. I feel like his little daughter and I like it oh so much!
May 23, 1942
Something has been bothering me terribly the last few days. I know Nora is thinking about what it’s going to be like when my romance ends. She’s accusing me of taking it too seriously and (does she have a clearheaded view of it?) she makes my heart ache. I know she doubts whether Z. really loves me. I know it; I can feel it.
And Zygus sometimes says something without realizing it and it hurts me so badly. Sometimes, when it bothers me too much, I think about running away. But when I hold him tightly, when he’s near, so very near, I feel I wouldn’t be able to part with him for all the treasures in the world. That would mean giving up my soul.
Nora, you are wrong. You’re different, but I’d be left with nothing.
When Z. is good to me, everything is good and bright and full of sunshine. Such a shame the month is about to pass. The nights are filled with stars. They’re so infatuating and I dream so much, I dream, I dream.
June 2, 1942
Now I know what the word ecstasy means. It’s indescribable; it’s the best thing two loving creatures can achieve. For the first time, I felt this longing to become one, to be one body and…well…to feel more, I could say. To bite and kiss and squeeze until blood shows. And Zygus talked about a house and a car and about being the best man for me.
Lord God, I’m so grateful to you for this affection and love and happiness! I’m writing these words differently, whispering them in my mind so I don’t scare them away or blow them out. I don’t want to think about anything, I just want to desire so badly, so passionately like…you know. You will help me, Bulus and God.
June 14, 1942
It’s dark, I can’t write. Panic in the city. We fear a pogrom; we fear deportations. Oh God Almighty! Help us! Take care of us; give us your blessing. We will persevere, Zygus and I, please let us survive the war. Take care of all of us, of the mothers and children. Amen.
July 5, 1942
We feared it and then it finally happened. The ghetto. The notices went out today. Supposedly, they’re planning to deport half the people. Great Lord God, have mercy. My thoughts are so dark, it’s a sin to even think them.
I saw a happy-looking couple today. They’d been on an outing; they were on their way back, amused and happy. Zygus, my darling, when will we go on an outing like theirs? I love you as much as she loves him. I would look at you the same way. But she’s so much happier, that’s the only thing I know. Or perhaps—oh, Holy God, you are full of mercy—our children will say one day, “Our mother and father lived in the ghetto.” Oh, I strongly believe it.
July 25, 1942
The Jewish Ghetto Police came last night. We haven’t paid everything yet. Oh! Why can’t money rain down from the sky? It’s people’s lives, after all. Terrible times have come. Mamma, you have no idea how terrible. But Lord God looks after us and, though I’m horribly frightened, I have trust in him.
I trust, because this morning a bright ray of sunshine came through all this darkness. It was sent by my Mamma in a letter, in the form of a wonderful photograph of her. And when she smiled at me from the photo, I thought that Holy God has us in his care! Even in the darkest moments there is something that can make us smile. Mamma, pray for us. I send you lots of kisses. You will help me, Bulus and God.
In the evening!
My dear diary, my good, beloved friend! We’ve gone through such terrible times together and now the worst moment is upon us. I could be afraid now. But the One who didn’t leave us then will help us today too. He’ll save us. Hear, O, 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. God, protect us all and Zygmunt and my grandparents and Ariana. God, into Your hands I commit myself. You will help me, Bulus and God.”
When the Przemyśl ghetto was established July 1942, The Spiegel family moved in along with 24,000 other Jews. After about two weeks, Schwarzer, (aka Zygu)who worked with the local resistance, secretly removed Renis from the ghetto and hid her and his own parents in the attic of his uncle’s house because they had not received the work permits they would need in order to avoid deportation to concentration camps. An unknown informant told Nazi police about the hiding place, who executed the eighteen-year-old Renia along with Schwarzer’s parents in the street on July 30, 1942.
“Three shots! Three lives lost! All I can hear are shots, shots.” This line is the final entry of Renia Spiegel’s diary. It is the final entry but it was not written by her but by her boyfriend.
Renia had left her diary with her boyfriend ,Zygmunt Schwarzer, for safekeeping.
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