“Reni Spiegel’s Diary” is a testimony of World War II. It is also a diary of a teenager living in Przemyśl, who talks about death, the ghetto, but also about love and longing for her mother. The journal was published in 2019. Now the Galicia Jewish Museum has decided to create animated films based on it that present this story.
Renia Spiegel is a Polish Jew who started keeping her diary when she was 15. She lived with her grandparents in Przemyśl. At the age of 17 she was sent to the ghetto. In her diary, Renia describes life in the face of the Holocaust.
Remember this day well, remember. One day you will tell about it to generations. Today at 8:00 we were locked in the ghetto. I already live here and the world is separated from me and I from the world. The days are terrible. The nights aren’t any better either.
– The diary was supposed to be a trusted friend, a confidante, a book that would remain silent, to which she could entrust her greatest secrets, her dreams, her innermost thoughts – explains Anna Wencel, an educator and co-author of the script from the Galicia Jewish Museum.
I cry, even though I lack nothing. No dresses, no sweets. Not even the strange dreams that are so dear to me. I only need one thing. A warm, motherly heart and home.
We can find many poems in Renia’s diary. The texts written in it reveal the woman’s constant longing for her mother. Trivial stories from a teenager’s life are intertwined with images of World War II. – It is an extremely important historical source considering the period covered by “Renia Spiegel’s Diary”. The atmosphere at that time, the moment the war broke out. Because Renia writes in Przemyśl. The whole issue of the Soviet occupation, life under this occupation, then the German-Soviet fights, then the German occupation and the persecution of the population, the extermination of the Jewish population. It’s all there. In this situation, we have a young, very sensitive, extremely talented woman who describes the reality surrounding her – argues Anna Wencel.
God, my God. We’ve been on the road for three days now. They bombed Przemyśl. We had to run away. At night we left the burning and partially destroyed city with bundles.
Little known story
The Galicia Jewish Museum decided to present Renia’s story through animated films. – We wanted to present this story closer. To show this story. Because, despite everything, she is still little known in Poland and abroad – explains Anna Wencel.
Renia’s story is told through short films based on fragments she left in her diary. – We decided to present this world a bit dirty with cliches of memories. It’s not that hyper-realistic. Even though the heroine is alive and real – she is an actress who plays this character – this reality is covered with a shroud of darkness and crumpled memories. These shadows are an important element in our story – says Miłosz Kozioł, director and co-author of the script from the Foundation for Education and Art.
Eight animated episodes were created that show the breakthrough moments described in the diary. The creators wanted to show historical events, but also to convey the emotions described by Renia. – We managed to create such strong visuals that it is a perfect metaphor for the pages of this journal. This combination of acting, combined with 2D animation, works very well in such a metaphorical story about those times – emphasizes director Miłosz Kozioł. – We received a grant from the US Department of State to implement this entire project. Here we had great support from the Consulate General of the United States in Krakow. We cooperate on this project with the family, that is, with Elizabeth Bellak, who agreed to an interview, fragments of which, recorded in the spring of 2023, are part of each episode, and Aleksandra Bellak, Elizabeth’s daughter and Renia’s niece – adds Anna Wencel.
Years of oblivion
Renia’s beloved – Zygmunt – gave the diary to her mother and sister right after the war. – It is he who, on the last pages of the diary, informs about the last events from the summer of 1942 and the tragic circumstances of her death. Zygmunt Schwarzer survived the war. He was a prisoner in several Nazi concentration camps. Some time after the war, he emigrated to the United States and took Renia’s diary with him. In the United States, he found his surviving mother and sister and gave the diary to them. Only none of them could read it. It was too difficult. It was too heavy on an emotional level. So this diary stayed in a bank safe for decades, explains Anna Wencel.
Only after over 70 years did Elizabeth and her daughter decide to tell Renia’s story. The journal was first published in 2019 in the United States. – We would like the viewer to be convinced that love, hope and closeness are something that we need at every moment of our lives. On the one hand, and on the other hand – the primary goal for creators who talk about the Holocaust, talk about the Holocaust, talk about events during World War II is always the primary goal, but there is this belief in the back of their heads that it can never happen again. – notes Miłosz Kozioł. – At one point she asks, and this also appears in the first film, “was my life sad? Yes.” This is how she responds to herself, says Anna Wencel.
Renia Spiegel was shot by a German soldier on July 30, 1942.
When I get my hands on a short and small cup of happiness, I will drink as much as I can, as much as there is happiness in the small cup.
Main photo source: Galicia Jewish Museum