Renia’s Diary: A tale of wartime girlhood

Celebrating Renia Spiegel with Elżbieta Bellak, Eva Hoffman, Antoni Polonsky, Anna Hyde and Marta Dziurosz



Thursday 6 September 2018, 7:30-9pm
341-351 Finchley Road
London NW3 6ET
£10 in advance / £12 on the day
Book online

Renia Spiegel wrote her memoir as an adolescent during Nazi and Soviet occupation of Przemyśl during WWII. The diary starts in January 1939 and ends when she was killed in July 1942. Its Polish publication in 2016 took major global media by the storm. Renia Spiegel was hailed 'Poland's Anne Frank' and the forthcoming English edition of her diary is hugely anticipated.

Her sister Ariana, now Elżbieta Bellak (called 'the Polish Shirley Temple') will look at Renia’s story and also at the relationship of sisters putting light on the feminine experience and adolescent individuation halted by the war. Antony Polonsky from the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies and the book translators Anna Hyde and Marta Dziurosz will further discuss the significance of 'Renia's Diary' publication in English.

Eva Hoffman will chair the evening.

Wherever I look, there is bloodshed. Such terrible pogroms. There is killing, murdering. God, for the umpteenth time I humble myself in front of you, help us, save us! God, let us live, I beg you, I want to live! I had so little of life; my life has been so petty, so unimportant, so small. Today I worry about being ugly, tomorrow I might stop thinking forever.
– Translated by Anna Hyde and Marta Dziurosz

Renia Spiegel
was born in Uhryńkowce in Tarnopol province on June 18, 1924, the daughter of Rose and Bernard Spiegel. Bernard Spiegel was a land owner of an estate during this time. Renia’s younger sister by six years, Ariana (Elżbieta Bellak), was a child star and by the age of 8 was performing on the famous stage of Cyrulik Warszawski. She was featured in numerous films shot before the outbreak of the Second World War, including a part in director, Michael Waszyński’s film, Gehenna (1938).

Renia starts her diary in January 1939. At the outbreak of war, Renia is 15 years old. Together with her sister, Ariana, she stays in Przemyśl with their grandparents. Renia writes moving poems which are sometimes featured in the school newspaper. She also writes a series of poems in a hand-illustrated and beautifully bound booklet. Her diary mainly describes her loneliness living in war-torn Poland without a mother, her first love (she kisses her boyfriend for the first time four hours before the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union), and everyday life during the Soviet and then German occupations. The diary describes her fears and terror during the creation of the ghetto in Przemyśl. She writes of the humiliation she experiences first-hand and witnesses on the streets of Przemyśl. She writes up until the last day of her short life. She is shot on the street of the ghetto a week after her 18th birthday.

This nearly seven hundred-page journal by Renia Spiegel, which spans the years 1939 to the summer of 1942, presents a powerful insight into the life of a young woman, whose life was tragically cut shortly after her eighteenth birthday. The diary is an eyewitness account of the horrors of day-to-day life during the Nazi occupation. There is incredible maturity in her observations and insights. Her account of her personal life is poignant, heart breaking, and often amusing with her expression of adolescent infatuation exposing the raw emotion of a teenager. This powerful diary is not only a primary historical source of the Holocaust, but also a true and outstanding work of literature.

[Source: Renia Spiegel Foundation]

Eva Hoffman
was born in Poland two months after the war and emigrated in her teens to Canada and then the United States. After receiving her Ph.D. in literature from Harvard University, she worked as senior editor and literary critic at The New York Times, and has taught at various British and American universities. Her books, which have been translated widely, include Lost in Translation, Exit Into History, After Such Knowledge and Time, as well as two novels, The Secret and Illuminations. She has written and presented numerous programmes for BBC Radio and has lectured internationally on subjects of exile, historical memory, cross-cultural relations, political transitions, and other contemporary issues. Her awards include the Guggenheim Fellowship, Whiting Award for Writing, an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Prix Italia for Radio. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and holds an honorary doctorate from Warwick University. She lives in London. In September 2015 She joined the European Institute as Visiting Professor for three years working on a project on Conceptions of Freedom.

Dr. Antony Polonsky was a founder and is now vice-president of the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies in Oxford and of the American Association for Polish-Jewish Studies, Cambridge, MA. He was for six years a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and was a member of its Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Committee and Chairman of the Academic and Educational sub-committee of this Committee. He is an editor of The Library of Holocaust Testimonies. He is an honorary research fellow in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College, London, a member of the International Advisory Board of the Mordekhai Anieliewicz Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Warsaw, of the Jewish University in Moscow, of the International Advisory Council of Sefer, the Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization in Moscow, of the Editorial Advisory Board of the Simon Dubnow Institute Yearbook and of the Editorial Board of Central Europe. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the National Polish American-Jewish American Task Force and an Associate of the Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University. He is joint chair of the committee to publish in English the post-war testimonies collected by the Jewish Historical Commission in Poland. He was for many years a member of the Inter-university film consortium in London and was the producer and director of a 55 minute documentary on Fascism. He was also a consultant for the documentary series, The Struggles for Poland. He has appeared frequently on radio and television as a commentator on Polish and Jewish matters. In 1999, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland and in 2006 the Rafael Scharf award for outstanding achievement in preserving and making known the heritage of Polish Jewry. In 2007 he was awarded the biannual Gantz-Zahler Prize in Nonfiction Publishing by the Foundation of Jewish Culture and in 2008 the Oskar Halecki prize of the Polish American Historical Association for contributing to the understanding the Polish experience in the United States. In 2010 he was awarded an honorary doctorate at Warsaw University. In 2011 he was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Polonia Restituta and the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Indpendent Lithuania. He is a member of the, International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania and Chief Historian of the Permanent Exhibition, Museum of Polish Jews, Warsaw.

Anna Hyde (Anna Blasiak) studied Art History in Warsaw, Film Studies in Kraków and Arts Policy and Management in London. She translated over 40 books from English into Polish and some fiction from Polish into English (by Mariusz Czubaj, Wioletta Grzegorzewska, Jan Krasnowolski. Kaja Malanowska, Daniel Odija, Mirka Szychowiak and Irit Amiel). She also translated poetry into Polish (by Maria Jastrzębska, Mary O’Donnell, Nessa O’Mahony, Vesna Goldsworthy and Martina Evans) and into English (by Mirka Szychowiak, Radosław Wiśniewski and Edward Pasewicz). Anna worked in museums and a radio station, ran magazines, wrote on art, film and theatre. She helps run European Literature Network and until recently was one of the editors of Babiniec Literacki, a Polish website publishing poetry written by women. She writes poetry in Polish and English. More at

Marta Dziurosz is a Polish <> English literary translator and interpreter, literary curator and Free Word Centre’s Translator in Residence 2015-2016. While in residence she organised a rich programme of innovative events and worked with universities and schools. She also works for the publishing house Pan Macmillan and is a member of the Translators Association. She has collaborated with organisations such as the British Council, British Library, European Literature Network, London Book Fair, Lancaster University, Writing West Midlands, and New Writing North. Her writing and translations have been published by numerous publications including the New Statesman, Words Without Borders, PEN Atlas, In Other Words, New Books from Poland, The Linguist, Specimen, For Books’ Sake, Glasgow Review of Books and Asymptote.

Organised by the Polish Cultural Institute in London in collaboration with JW3 and Renia Spiegel's Foundation.

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