Renia Spiegel was a Polish Jewish teenager who was born and raised in an area of Poland that was near the border with Romania. An avid diarist and poet, Renia wrote about her life in her journal right up to her untimely death at the hands of the Gestapo in 1942. I’ve read mentions of comparisons to Anne Frank but the only similarities between the two books are that both girls were Jewish and wrote journals. Other than that their diaries are very different. Where Anne’s diary detailed her own personal thoughts and feelings, she also recounted much of what was happening on the outside, even when she was in hiding. Renia’s diary reads much more like a regular teenager’s diary, focusing mainly on her friends, loves, and school, and mentions of what are happening to her country and the restrictions imposed on the Jews, as well as fears and hopes of the population in general are only often mentioned in passing, or in the background. This could be because her diary was a way to escape from the world around her, or just because she wasn’t interested in recounting horrifying events in detail. In any case if you read this book looking for Anne Frank you will possibly find it a little difficult to read. If you read it knowing that you are reading a teenager’s intimate diary, and place yourself in her world, you will see what a lovely writer and poet Renia was.
Some entries are a little tedious, as I’m sure many entries of my own teenage journals are, and some are a perfect rendition of what it is to be a teenager. I really appreciated the epilogue written by Renia’s little sister, Elizabeth, who survived the war with their mother, as it helped place Renia in a world outside her journal - I think this part of the book should maybe be read before the diary as it allows the reader a greater perspective of who Renia was, and where she lived. I also really appreciated reading Renia’s poetry as I found much to understand about what was happening around her in those verses.
I’m so glad that Elizabeth finally decided to publish her sister’s story and that I had the chance to read it. I’m left saddened by how Renia’s life was cut short, amidst millions of others, but hopeful that there will always be people to uncover and tell these stories. We will never forget.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy!