Updated: Dec 31, 2021
On the latest episode of Brilliance Beyond Borders, I speak with the incredible Elizabeth Bellak (born Ariana Spiegel) and her phenomenal daughter Alexandra.
Ariana was a child actress known as “the Shirley Temple of Poland.” When war broke out, Ariana and her older sister Renia were visiting their grandparents in the town of Przemyśl. Renia was killed in Przemyśl in 1942, but Ariana survived and made her way back to Warsaw, along with a friend’s father, who was a member of the resistance. There, Ariana was baptized with a new name—Elzbieta—and sent to play a real-life acting role as a Catholic girl at a convent school.
After the war, Elzbieta made her way to New York via Austria, and became Elizabeth, and became a schoolteacher. Years later, she was miraculously reunited with her sister Renia’s wartime diary, in which Renia had documented their family’s experiences and shared intimate personal reflections.
For decades, Elizabeth kept Renia’s diary to herself, locked away in a vault, perhaps never to be discovered. At the urging of her daughter Alexandra, she decided to bring the story to light. St. Martin's Press published it in 2019 as Renia's Diary and the diary became an international bestseller.
At 91 years old, Elizabeth shares her wisdom with the hope of inspiring a beautiful future for all.
Three Lessons to Create the Future
Elizabeth and Alexandra stress the importance of remembering the past in order to create the future:
1. We must remember what unites us as Americans.
Elizabeth’s mother loved America. She would cry when they sang “God bless America” After being homeless in so many countries, their family was finally able to find somewhere to feel safe and call home. However, the country is becoming more and more divided. We must hold dear to the values that unite us as Americans, such as faith (regardless of what you practice – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or another form of faith), and the ability to freely practice without fear of death or persecution.
2. Young people are our hope.
Elizabeth hopes that people remember Renia as a poet and a romantic. Young people feel deeply, they love the world, and have great hope for the future. As we work toward a better future, young people are our hope.
3. The past is a great teacher.
Alexandra reminds us that as Holocaust survivors are leaving this world, coupled with the rise of antisemitism around the world, we have to work even harder to continue these lessons of history. All of us are responsible to ensure this tragic history never repeats itself. We must not forget, and we must continue to fight. These stories of history, such as Renia’s Diary, are an eternal lesson to confront antisemitism and denounce hate and persecution in all their forms.