Disclaimer: I received this arc from the publisher. Thanks! All opinions are my own.
Book: Renia’s Diary: A Holocaust Journal
Author: Renia Spiegel
Book Series: Standalone
Diversity: Jewish main character and side characters
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Genre: YA History
Recommended Age: 14+ (teen angst, some love, inner thoughts, some violence, some horrifying events especially at the end)
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Synopsis: The long-hidden diary of a young Polish woman’s last days during the Holocaust, translated for the first time into English, with a foreword from American Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt.
Renia Spiegel was a young girl from an upper-middle class Jewish family living on an estate in Stawki, Poland, near what was at that time the border with Romania. In the summer of 1939, Renia and her sister Elizabeth (née Ariana) were visiting their grandparents in Przemysl, right before the Germans invaded Poland.
Like Anne Frank, Renia recorded her days in her beloved diary. She also filled it with beautiful original poetry. Her diary records how she grew up, fell in love, and was rounded up by the invading Nazis and forced to move to the ghetto in Przemsyl with all the other Jews. By luck, Renia’s boyfriend Zygmund was able to find a tenement for Renia to hide in with his parents and took her out of the ghetto. This is all described in the Diary, as well as the tragedies that befell her family and her ultimate fate in 1942, as written in by Zygmund on the Diary’s final page.
Renia’s Diary is a significant historical and psychological document. The raw, yet beautiful account depicts Renia’s angst over the horrors going on around her. It has been translated from the original Polish, with notes included by her surviving sister, Elizabeth Bellak.
Review: I don’t like to rate people’s diaries because a diary is much like poetry. It’s a place to write as you will and want outside of the limitations of language. I really liked the diary and I felt like it can definitely appeal to younger people as Anne Frank’s diary does and it can help younger kids understand more of the war from multiple viewpoints. I know Anne Frank is still assigned reading in some schools and I don’t doubt that this one will be as well. The war was more vast than Anne Frank’s neighborhood and that’s where Renia’s viewpoint shines. Many people forget the Soviet’s impact and fault in the war and much of it has been lost in history in order to skim past the timeline (thanks school constraints). This isn’t saying that this compares to Anne Frank. Anne Frank was introspective and more of a journalist whereas Renia is a poet who discusses feelings and items “in the moment”, so the grip of the war isn’t as great as it is in Anne’s, but both are about young girls facing one of the greatest horrors of thie world and how they chose to survive and process it. Anne did so through detailing her living conditions and what was happening outside, whereas Renia reverts back into her first love and how her inner circle is handling things. In fact, her sister’s detailing at the end of the book was much better, in my opinion, than the whole of the book but I like facts whereas some people like feelings, nothing wrong with either of those things. And although I did find it weird that the poems rhymed in English (this was obviously a translation) I can’t fault the book for anything because I can’t fault how someone writes their personal thoughts because thoughts transcend language.
Verdict: Definitely recommend and if you are in school or are a teacher consider using this alongside Anne Frank!