In Conversation with Dr. Catherine M. Lewis, Professor of History, Kennesaw State University
ELIZABETH BELLAK & ALEXANDRA BELLAK,
Renia Spiegel was born in 1924 to an upper-middle class Jewish family living in southeastern Poland, near what was at that time the border with Romania. At the start of 1939 Renia began a diary. “I just want a friend. I want somebody to talk to about my everyday worries and joys. Somebody who would feel what I feel, who would believe me, who would never reveal my secrets. A human being can never be such a friend and that’s why I have decided to look for a confidant in the form of a diary.” And so begins an extraordinary document of an adolescent girl’s hopes and dreams.
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, her daily drama with 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. When she was forced into the city’s ghetto with the other Jews, Zygmund is able to smuggle her out to hide with his parents, taking Renia out of the ghetto, but not, ultimately to safety. 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, afterword, and notes by her surviving sister, Elizabeth Bellak. An extraordinary historical document, Renia Spiegel survives through the beauty of her words and the efforts of those who loved her and preserved her legacy.
BEV SALTZMAN LEWYN,
On the Run in Nazi Berlin
Berlin, 1942. The Gestapo arrest eighteen-year-old Bert Lewyn (the author’s father-in-law) and his parents, sending the latter to their deaths and Bert to work in a factory making guns for the Nazi war effort. Miraculously tipped off the morning the Gestapo round up all the Jews who work in the factories, Bert goes underground. He finds shelter sometimes with compassionate civilians, sometimes with people who find his skills useful and sometimes in the cellars of bombed-out buildings. Without proper identity papers, he survives as a hunted Jew in the flames and terror of Nazi Berlin in part by successfully mimicking non-Jews, even masquerading as an SS officer. But the Gestapo are hot on his trail…
Before World War II, 160,000 Jews lived in Berlin. By 1945, only 3,000 remained alive. Bert was one of the few, and his thrilling memoir—from witnessing the famous 1933 book burning to the aftermath of the war in a displaced persons camp—offers an unparalleled depiction of the life of a runaway Jew caught in the heart of the Nazi empire.
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