Over the course of three years and 700 diary pages, a Jewish teenager named Renia Spiegel chronicled the unraveling of her life after her native Poland was invaded by the Soviets, then the Nazis. She was shot dead in the summer of 1942, when she was just 18 years old. But as Robin Shulman reported for the November 2018 issue of Smithsonian magazine, her diary survived the war, locked away in a safe deposit box for decades. Now, this precious, poignant historic document has been published in English in full for the first time.
The diary has drawn inevitable comparisons to Anne Frank, the Dutch-Jewish teenager who famously diarized her own wartime experiences. Both were lucid writers, articulate and insightful in spite of their young age. Both wrote about love and coming of age even as they grappled with the horrors around them. Both of their lives were cut tragically short. At the same time, clear differences emerge. "Renia was a little older and more sophisticated, writing frequently in poetry as well as in prose," Shulman writes. "She was also living out in the world instead of in seclusion."
While Spiegel's diary has been in her family's possession for years, it was only published in Polish in 2016. Smithsonian published the first English-translated excerpts of the diary last year. "Reading such different firsthand accounts," Shulman adds, "reminds us that each of the Holocaust’s millions of victims had a unique and dramatic experience." For instance, as Alexandra Garbarini, a professor and historian at Williams College in Massachusetts, points out in a recent interview with Joanna Berendt of the New York Times, Spiegel’s diary covers not only the Nazi occupation, but also Stalin’s totalitarian regime.