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Elizabeth Bellak (née Ari­ana Spiegel) was born in 1930 in Staw­ki, Poland. Known as “the Shirley Temple of Poland,” she was a prominent child actress before World War II who went to live in Warsaw to pursue a career in film.

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. 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, became “Elizabeth,” and started a career as 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. St. Martin’s Press published it in 2019 as Renia’s Diary and the diary became an international bestseller.

Join Elizabeth Bellak for this Stories Survive program exploring her remarkable journey. Bellak is interviewed by Stephanie Lynne Mason, a Broadway actress known for leading roles in Fiddler on the Roof and Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish.

Watch the program below.

Stories Survive is made possible by the Goldie and David Blanksteen Foundation.

 

 

This program’s original recording transcript is below. This transcription was created automatically during a live program so may contain inaccurate transcriptions of some words.

Ari Goldstein: I'm Ari Goldstein Senior Public programs producer at the Museum of Jewish heritage living memorial to Holocaust and it's a pleasure to welcome you to today's story survivor program with.

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Ari Goldstein: Elizabeth black and her daughter Alexandra Bella because, with her moderated by wonderful broadway actress stephanie Lynn mason you may know, from her leading roles in fiddler on the roof and fiddler on the roof in Yiddish.

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Ari Goldstein: we'll dive into Elizabeth story today, so I won't introduce her in too much detail now, but it just want to say what an honor it is for us to have her with us.

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Ari Goldstein: And a very special mother's day to all the mothers and daughters, who are tuning in we're glad we're glad you're here with us today to hear the story so.

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Ari Goldstein: please feel free to share questions in the zoom Q amp a box or comments in the zoom chat throughout the discussion stephanie will interview Elizabeth and then we'll save some time, towards the end for audience q&a without further ado, take it away stuff.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: hi everybody I just.

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Elizabeth Bellak: want to thank you for inviting me.

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Elizabeth Bellak: brianna.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Yes, thank you, everybody happy mother's day.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Yes, thank you so much for having me as well and happy mother's day to Elizabeth and happy mother's day to everyone watching out there.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: I am so honored to be here today and that you're willing to talk to me about your life, before, during and after the war and about your family, especially your sister venue.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: But all of your other relatives that you lost in the Holocaust so i'm so honored and thank you so much for being here.

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Elizabeth Bellak: With me and every week.

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Elizabeth Bellak: To do.

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Elizabeth Bellak: This see you.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: it's wonderful to see you too.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: it's been so wonderful getting to know you and also reading about you and I love doing that also your fellow actor or your fellow actress and I love finding out that you were the Polish shirley temple before the war, how did you come to be interested in the arts, I have to ask.

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Elizabeth Bellak: When was it wasn't me my mother used to read stories to us and also read poems to us, and I would memorize that was only five years old.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And so yeah so I used to know, whatever she read so she said gee you must have been interested in politics, yes, I like it so when I was five years old, that was on the radio in the city of remove.

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Elizabeth Bellak: That was true because we were reciting poems so I started a very young age, that I, you know didn't know, I was famous, then you know, like a Polish sherry tempo.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And all these magazines.

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Elizabeth Bellak: But my mom introduced me to all that, when I was very young and my sister she noticed that she was a good writer cuz she was six years old.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: wow you know was doing.

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Elizabeth Bellak: The writing, and this and I guess my mother helped me she just all.

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Elizabeth Bellak: saw.

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Elizabeth Bellak: that's how it started.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Do you have a favorite memory of being a child actor in Poland.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Like one of your favorite oh.

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Elizabeth Bellak: yeah I was with some famous actress in that movie get Hannah she was one of the fashion can name was strictly scholar or something, and you know we as a kid going with all these famous people.

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Elizabeth Bellak: You know, it very much impressed me, I must say I was just seven eight years old.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I was through how you know was so different when they made the movie and that camera and the whole thing it's nothing like today technology was so different.

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Elizabeth Bellak: But, of course, you know those people in the movies were hand, some people beautiful and I was very impressed, because when I was inserted varsavsky.

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Elizabeth Bellak: When I was reciting the poetry, it was different you know there wasn't much there was a big man there's a picture I don't know he was another actor, but that was different than the movies, the movie was really something else for me.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Oh wow i've had the honor of seeing photos of you from when you were a child actress and I know we have some of them can we show the viewers, some of these videos so you could tell me a story about the buttons on your dress in this case.

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Elizabeth Bellak: The buttons my name is here at IANA I was born and my name is Elizabeth Bella I was born ariana should be good, but for our.

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Elizabeth Bellak: You know the stage they call me adiana so each button has a letter that is says to the end that's.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: amazing can we go to the next photo.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: These are some of your news clippings right from when you were.

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Elizabeth Bellak: A show this man was also an actor from somewhere, he was with me a truly varsavsky and this other thing it says ariana Polska shirley temple.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And it was it was from this that we found out things because, when the war came I forgot, I was on the stage, you understand everything closed up, I was.

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Elizabeth Bellak: With my grandparents they never had any Calypso This is all my mother had was when she lived on the German side you know because I wasn't was on the steak.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And it also said, I was in these two movies, and they found out that one movie that there's a clip here should I wear that I was in the movies and.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Yes, it's right here.

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I don't think that was inspired by shirley temple I just like to do what I like to do so, my mom I just thought i'd be a movie star.

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Elizabeth Bellak: curly hair.

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Elizabeth Bellak: straight.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Now.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: beautiful, by the way.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Say thanks to my daughter, who dies my hair.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I found a new profession as a new profession.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Absolutely, so I have to ask what are some of your other memories from life before the war with your family and what what were things like.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Oh, we had a very happy as my sister writes in the book, we were very happy kids we lived in a country of my father's state in the middle of nowhere just was horses cows chicken so on so forth, that was a smith to fix the horses.

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Elizabeth Bellak: The horses and so on, so you know our life was good in the summertime my mother took us to a town called salish sticky on the very border of the.

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Elizabeth Bellak: You know, Romania, it was just a river called yesterday we lived on the Polish side, and then they made a railroad and it went to.

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Elizabeth Bellak: What that's the River right here my sister my mom and I by the river, yes, on the other side is Romania and my mom used to go, we had a.

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Elizabeth Bellak: You know, Guy with the horse is to take us to town she wouldn't buy sugar so isn't that what she needed for the House, and you know, we still have actually when there was summit time they had that.

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Elizabeth Bellak: How would they say they had that displays of the summer festival.

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Elizabeth Bellak: In that town, and so we would perform we had these Polish costumes with the boys, we might.

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Elizabeth Bellak: There might bore Mr.

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Elizabeth Bellak: mayor of the town, it was very pleasant for us our we had beautiful trees at home, we had fruit at home with the birds were singing my sister is the wind was blowing she was so poetic and she put it all in that words I love it, I mean it was a good life.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Absolutely, I had the honor of reading from running his diary and the museum streamed eight and candles event, two months ago, and I was so incredibly moved by her words in her story What was your relationship with her like and did you know she was keeping a diary.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I never know she was keeping it, I have no idea, she must have kept it under the bed somewhere, I know about the diary to Sigma brought it to New York and found my mom.

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Elizabeth Bellak: But I didn't read the Diary, a few months ago I fish, and it was the last few yeah I tried to translate the diary with this friend of ours.

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Elizabeth Bellak: He was a Polish really translated this book about the Polish uprising and we used to go to Florida, and I will try to you know started every time I tried I started to cry I couldn't get.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I just couldn't do it, so I never really read the diary my mother never did preach the diary I just finished reading in Polish the diary.

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Elizabeth Bellak: few months ago now, I started to read it in English because my heart is always a great thing to read you know it's very difficult.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And the last chapter that I finally read, I see that she was scared there was something there premonition.

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Elizabeth Bellak: That you know something bad was coming well, of course, it wasn't given the get the one you get taken out, you know, things are good, you know she had to we had to wear the band, I was too young to wear it, but she did you know.

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Elizabeth Bellak: That you know that's how it was life was great and suddenly everything changes, like in five minutes, the Russians arrive life is different yeah.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: um What was your relationship like with renu where you closest sisters.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Oh well, she she was my surrogate mother.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And I think about it.

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Elizabeth Bellak: yeah I have a mother, I was a young kid and I was always with my mom.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And I have was very difficult and, of course, the Russians arrived, I was with the older grandparents, there were all the people I was young, that differences great.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And you know, it was very difficult for me and with these Russians coming you know with that man Lashkar they had this one top terrorists, they.

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Elizabeth Bellak: ate with one thing, and if they march in to semi where I was with my grandparents and everybody was scared it was a new army was something totally different and as kids see no surprise, so what.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And, of course, that the Germans were approaching 30 other side, and this and that and this this town was a division, with the Germans and the Russians was the River son, that was a river sound in that town yeah.

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Elizabeth Bellak: So um.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: How old were you around this time.

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Elizabeth Bellak: and nine, maybe I was going to school, the Russians, let us go to school, because the Germans never let you go to anything just tried to kill you but.

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Elizabeth Bellak: The Russians they learn just about the school they want us to grow up with commerce right the kids can be molded it's a different story.

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Elizabeth Bellak: They were this harsh called sin that got off always really so you know, maybe we would become that really know anything about it, but we went to school, I went to elementary my sister went to kill Nigel she was six years old right.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: So the difference between the Russian occupation and the German occupation as that shifted what changes were happening around you at the time, and as a 10 year old what did that feel like.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Well, first of all, you know we were running away from the German my grandfather my sister nine my grandmother stayed with the maid and down she wasn't going anywhere.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And we had a terrible trying going the Russians were Germans were already bombing shemesh we were running through the fields we were running away to another town, we didn't know what to do you know people were around me but.

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Elizabeth Bellak: What we we knew, because when the Russians arrived, the family of my grandmother from yaroslav all came to shamash running away from the Germans, because they knew for the Jews, that was it.

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Elizabeth Bellak: But when the Russians came now at the Germans, that was we knew we were stuck and who knows what's gonna be we live still about a year and our building where my grandpa grandma live.

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Elizabeth Bellak: But then of course we were going to get we couldn't go to school at the were a band, we had to be petrified who's talking on the street.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And our life changed enormously everybody was petrified and of course we couldn't go to school, that was taboo, but I had a girlfriend and she would make me the one whose father saves my life.

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Elizabeth Bellak: That you know, under the death penalty, but this is Mr industry ski and his sister is here three daughters that my best friend was his youngest daughter, and the two other girls went to school with my sister now actually.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Here beautiful books two books that were illustrated with poetry that you probably didn't see it separate we have it.

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Elizabeth Bellak: So they were very friendly and he belong to the organization to help the Jews that's.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Absolutely you.

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Elizabeth Bellak: know you were petrified walking on the street German start taking the coach away the first codes they took the piano right this day that I mean they came to the House, yet to keep paying I don't know what it was a terrible situation.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Absolutely, I remember reading in the diary about when they took the piano away and just how with.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: broken.

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Elizabeth Bellak: heart rate and my sister sent us well she sent my sister to a special Professor under the Russian and he used to teach them to Polish it, you know her writing this beautiful and Polish it's hard to translate those poetry are very difficult to translate and it's beautiful.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Even in English it's so so so beautiful.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Knowing that there was some trouble she would, if she loved somebody right if she was unhappy she writes if the school is a door right she was President of the litter where it club she just a brilliant girl.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And she also helped my grandfather and his business use the right of his proposal forever so she was young 15 so grown up for her age, I was younger.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: so incredibly mature for her age and such as she had so much promise in so many dreams and I have to ask.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: What was it like being taken to the ghetto with your family and what was your understanding of what was happening, and I know that when you was like a second mother to you, and what was what was she there for you, during that time, how did she support you.

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Elizabeth Bellak: You know they had to give them money first time the policeman came for us to go I think my grandfather bribed him sure we stay a little more.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And then you know, everybody after a year the garden little place you know here my grandparents lived in that building all the lives and suddenly you know my grandma had this store downstairs and my grandpa had his business in the room that and a big desk and my Cisco.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And he was you know construction stuff and that, and so it we had to move now First they took the coats and then they took the piano then we had to obviously lose our made and.

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Elizabeth Bellak: You know we've got a little small place they had that little yard outside you know, but actually will stay there very long because my sister gets killed.

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Elizabeth Bellak: But you know she gets goes to school under the Russian she falls in love with zig one day one, is a great guy my dad he was in five camping survival.

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Elizabeth Bellak: He had dark dark hair beautiful green eyes curly hair she was adorable guy and very pleasant in came to that overseas to sit down to this big there was a big stove made of.

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Elizabeth Bellak: ceramic stoves you know they still even have like here ready, or should we just have to put the fire into the stove and and so that's what how we live.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And then, what was them and, of course, maybe he did know that she was writing poems that I posed to you, I really I really knew that she was literary.

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Elizabeth Bellak: She was in the Russian newspaper she got an award for this myself tuchman was a doctor here for 50 years zygmunt became a doctor to.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And when he was attacked the he was in the air force here, then he became a doctor New York confirm my mom and brought in this guy who why we didn't ask him, where did you keep that diary we never raced them.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Because we never know you know what I mean you meet somebody after so many years you get so confused oh my sugar there.

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Elizabeth Bellak: You don't know what.

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Elizabeth Bellak: These are.

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Elizabeth Bellak: The most important question where was the data yes it's.

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Elizabeth Bellak: weird.

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Elizabeth Bellak: That the diary arrived in New York was given to Sigma he found my mom he copied the diary and he had a shrine in his apartment his house downstairs with my sisters victor.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I don't know how his wife never much is why we sourcing you know it was hard for her yes, it was a sister for his great love yeah.

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Elizabeth Bellak: wow so we got this and then he helps us at the end, so we go to the ghetto, we have the little place, you know how said, it is to save by for the parent grandparent.

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Elizabeth Bellak: My guy that was heartbreaking so he comes I think takes me first what he does, how do we get out of it, because that was armed if people at the gates, you know when we went inside I don't know what he did he gets me out.

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Elizabeth Bellak: and takes me to the family of machines.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Now, from the ghetto, and then a few days later he takes my sister in his parents were brother inning Garrett.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Not the brother is something than a human right, he lives on the area inside.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Let somebody read some my sister, and of course the killer she's a teen in a few days, I don't know anything about it because let's change it now takes me to the railroad station to take me to my mom I haven't seen in years right.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Right and so, how long had it been since you'd senior must.

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Elizabeth Bellak: haves for two years, she came a couple times, she was on that sanja which means over the sun river.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Some somehow they smuggled us through and we saw my mom a little bit At first we knew who she was alive, first we didn't know.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And then he takes me to my mother and there's this barrier she works now in a hotel or a Pasty because she's educated in Vienna, she knows, German and she's assistant to the director to does everything in the hotel with the all the.

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Elizabeth Bellak: German officers will reside it's the very much not the S s when she does everything she goes to the German because we have a different name or not yet me.

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Elizabeth Bellak: So then he takes me to Warsaw some and it is dogs and it's big shepherds and its biggest step, are you holds me by the hand, you can imagine how I feel I have nothing but a little.

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Elizabeth Bellak: lunch box which the grandpa to go dollar bills all around and they say you know, and he holds me and Sam has started, but when we arrived in Warsaw.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And guy runs to them as as you bringing the Jewish time, can you imagine how I feel I think Aha that's my end now, but it isn't he says to the guy now you better get away or i'll tell you.

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Elizabeth Bellak: guys one.

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Elizabeth Bellak: way, and he takes me to bury the family, whose wife is really doing is great grand uncle is a cardinal Poland and the whole thing and they introduced me then my mother comes and we see job everybody crying hey my God yeah it's it's everybody trying.

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Elizabeth Bellak: To solve is she my first time and, of course, she has all those pictures that you see cuz she never moved, you know I come with nothing a little co the little dress that's it wow.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: How did your mom survive during this time, how did What did she do in order to.

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Elizabeth Bellak: survive working.

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Elizabeth Bellak: All this time under false name she gets baptized she goes to church she used to assistant to the director in this hotel Europe it's five star hotel.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And she works and everything in German she's a big shot, you know no way it's the war she's fluent in German, and there is a guy Vice President, but he doesn't know anything in German His name was coats which means short.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And so he's folks like that means you know he's part German but he's Polish and my mother does that and so she's able to survive.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Now, how she's gonna survive for me how is the survival of yourself there a better family introduces us to casual PGA ski he makes get some dead person papers now i'm alicia business geez.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And I get baptized disability ever slava Elisa and I get there, you get me this Stephen another that Mrs better days my God mother and they shall Michelle kind of it.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I have to learn catechism and they put me in the Convent different times as not easy, but you know, I was actually.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: I was just going to ask you what was it like in the Convent I have to know.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Well, I didn't know anybody that nuns, of course, knew I was Jewish because the Bishop shall puts me in the one who baptized me and they of course.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Very good people that they want to hide me there so there's some picture we have one picture that i'm up with all these girls.

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Elizabeth Bellak: yeah go to church and I do the hocus pocus whatever, that is, and I learned how to live and then my mother is able to take me to a hotel because she lives far away from.

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The hotel right.

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Elizabeth Bellak: it's called Julie Bush and I go to her now The goal is how she takes me from the Convent but one day, every Sunday we don't have the director to have a lunch dinner with this hotel hotel or a Pasty.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And we're ready to go and after the church we go in the trolley car.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And in front, it says notify Georgia there's a chain and then vectors the Poles 70 all the Gestapo whatever comes into the trolley and says everybody out.

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Elizabeth Bellak: From that is this called something called weapon cuz they're gonna will get these people, they have these big trucks that gonna go to work in Germany they need workers, because you know the Germans are of the front of fighting so they need people.

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Elizabeth Bellak: So my mother's talking to me German the guys are standing with the guns and she says in Germany or Russia come here and the consumer data that so he thinks were German and we're walking the way.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I feel that may be the damsel in libra not she's talking Germany German the others get shoved up on those cars and we escaped.

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Elizabeth Bellak: But we moved a long they did that in war, so that day, and so we going through the old city or sort of finally walking now try walking to we get.

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Elizabeth Bellak: To the hotel in the afternoon late afternoon when they stop already and I get sick I get yellow Jonas, and the doctor comes and said it's from fright so now the dot the.

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Elizabeth Bellak: repercussion is a sister my mom from today on you live in a hotel hotel or a base, we get a beautiful room we bring our mothers there and we stay there that's how we get saved for a while.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: that's amazing I mean I can't even.

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Elizabeth Bellak: fathom offices and the hotel is gone by the German soldiers, with the with the glands both sides issue toto for your whole black crackers caption Mrs beautiful now, we were there, they gave us a sweet what a gorgeous place every you know they fixed it up, it was bombed during the war.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: that's absolutely incredible and I can't even fathom all of the various feelings that you were going through.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: So many things every.

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Elizabeth Bellak: day you have no idea you never know when that somebody is not gonna you know recognize you or say something you know I go to complexity which means somebody's house to learn, you know tony's whatever i'm learning and you know I still remember my poems.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Would you mind sharing with us.

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Elizabeth Bellak: So there were two poems poets in Poland ones was young.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And one was European tour and we're both Jews, but they go cut Christian, so I can tell you a little poem and I remembered your support yep gives peer to peer some extra physician job Angela shall wash your portal VIP sharper pictures every meal so bill Allah and his messenger or chicken.

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Elizabeth Bellak: This one was young.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And I didn't tell us just fight over another, that we have a visa swimming yesterday surety missoni ski is a service when.

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Elizabeth Bellak: You ever been to at least one rallies he goes you're not alone, I put some kind of basic listen you've got cut the cord think St Pope the Pope he turned out the opposite agrees papoose fishnet.

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Okay.

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Elizabeth Bellak: that's jobim spawn.

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Elizabeth Bellak: You know I.

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Elizabeth Bellak: chose these two because they have funny ways that you can hear it, the first one, of course, is about pepper and.

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You know.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: I could put the yes.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And the second, but in politicians had picture and picture your daughter is say.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Which is.

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Elizabeth Bellak: A and trolleys he is a famous singer who lives, and it was two things they both were tremendous I went to both people's houses, they invited me after your story say that poetry that's.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: amazing i'm so glad that you were you know able to stay safe during the war, where were you when you found out that you were liberated in what was that feeling like for you.

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Elizabeth Bellak: about this man, you know this German German officer awesome I wish my mom.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I don't know about English it's always it's a huge hotel that was 200 rooms along and he says to my mother money yeah it's very dangerous to Polish uprising began, you have to flee war so so he gets us.

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A.

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Elizabeth Bellak: NASA you know car as ambulance with the big Red Cross on top, we packed a few things he gives my mother all kinds of papers.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And he says take puts us on this car in this car this ambulance and takes us to the German border now she has all the papers and he tells us.

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Elizabeth Bellak: A terrible destination is a town small in Australia it's called bad just dying and that bad Stein has thermo waters.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And all the German soldiers who are wounded as stations there, because they have tremendous amount of hotels each hotel has a Red Cross, and so we traveled to the border and we take the train they come, and you know people examine the papers and my mom, of course, you know she speaks German.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And we traveled to but just Stein we arrived my mom finds this doctor who was in charge of that town and he gives you my mother's job is money.

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Elizabeth Bellak: We live in a hotel Robin she sits in front light in the reception desk and we we discounted discussion and we begin a new life and the Germans now.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I mean Austria but it's German occupation, so we stayed in that about a year, we have a picture, when you see miss in the outs, I think the young man has a picture that's where we live for about a year result of church, you know, and so on, and that's where we get liberated that's the.

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Elizabeth Bellak: magic water life now what the American they standing there we can't believe it they're not moving the mouth is a long talk, should they chewing gum.

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Elizabeth Bellak: First time my life I see somebody.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And they give us candy this and that my dad was a thing to get it, but what a story, the whole thing I mean there's a million other things in it, you understand now you don't have to worry to be killed every minute.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And my mother gets a job with the American she speaks English she speaks French, English, German, oh no.

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Elizabeth Bellak: So now we're going to look for somebody in America my uncle who's French French so my grandparents and my mother to Vienna to study so her German is perfect my uncle just sent to comment on the North.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And he becomes an engineer and an architect a marriage, the French lady from the society, not everybody's Catholic there.

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Elizabeth Bellak: We don't know he sends us papers in the braman to go to France, my mother doesn't want to stay in Europe, and my uncle's upset because we, the only person in this family alive my mom.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Because we are almost everybody we don't know what happened anybody, we know my sister deck to Now I know a mother finally tells me in Warsaw, because she goes looking for her with this finale.

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Elizabeth Bellak: But, of course, she can't find anything.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And so, she decides to find a cousin of my grandpa who is in New York in new Rochelle and we get papers and she wants to start a new life.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Because life is so difficult it was she doesn't want to have a memory of it we lost everybody my father had three sisters and two brothers.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And my grandmother and family and I nobody, we are now, we found two people somehow through the book does that align what is in was the one in California it can't believe it that happened.

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Elizabeth Bellak: But we really have nobody except the French.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And of course I have my family my daughter.

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Elizabeth Bellak: or daughter she's the one that's mixed in Nice, the whole thing she found the diary she translated cursory you're from Poland, some young guy paid him a few thousand dollars they'll find out what's about this diary that was in the wall right 70 years.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: So that was my next question um when when did zygmunt bring you the diary and and Alexandra what made you want to get the diary published.

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Elizabeth Bellak: So first question is we living in a little room on 90 street and West side.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And my mother first sent me to a school Nazareth Academy in Pennsylvania that's where I go to school, of course, she has no room for me, but then and back to New York visiting and somebody rings, the bell downstairs it's a walk up just two floors and Sigma shirt.

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Elizabeth Bellak: He brings the diary he finds my mother.

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Elizabeth Bellak: This kings.

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Elizabeth Bellak: finds him in that little building comes upstairs, hence the day my mother's totally shocked she never knows my sister wrote a diary how did he get what she does an s two words today how.

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Elizabeth Bellak: you send to the diary he may copy I told you, he keeps it in this House here and that's now the diaries my mother's hand.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Now my daughter tell you what happens right Well, first, I wanted to, I want to thank the Museum of Jewish heritage and our Goldstein for hosting and organizing this event and inviting my mother.

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Elizabeth Bellak: To tell and share her story and to stephanie Lynn mason a fellow thespian for participating in this q&a you've made this a very special mother's day for me and, as you all know, the survivors of the Holocaust are getting up in age, but um yeah 90 that know yet.

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there.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And their voices are as important and relevant as ever and the Museum of Jewish heritage plays a critical role and.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Preserving these stories and future generations.

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Elizabeth Bellak: will look to institutions like this one, to better understand what happened to Jews during the Second World War and other histories of the of the Jews, so I want to thank the Museum of Jewish heritage and happy mother's day to everyone.

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Elizabeth Bellak: What was your question.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Gary how.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Was.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Right, it was in the yeah well, it was in the vault and you know my name is Alexandra Renata and I was named after this beautiful and talented so who.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Is was unfortunately taken from us too early, by the Nazis and you know, I was always curious curious about my past and my heritage and why we had.

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Elizabeth Bellak: so few relatives so originally the motivation for translating the diary was to find out who ran you was what was she like what was her life, like what.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Could you teach me about my past and then after reading the diary I realized that this was a historical document that needed to be shared with the world.

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Elizabeth Bellak: scholars and historians, have said that she was a promising literary scholar.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And in fact Anna freilich who's a professor of Slavic studies at Columbia said of the diary that this powerful diaries not only.

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Elizabeth Bellak: A historical document, but a true an outstanding work of literature so knowing this made this experience bittersweet because now, I know what kind of future she could have had and and many like her.

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Elizabeth Bellak: So I wanted to identify with my personal history and where I came from, and it put me in a larger human experience of the Holocaust it.

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Elizabeth Bellak: made this historical tragedy relevant to me and It made me look at myself and my family and the world differently, because now, I was connected to this human catastrophe.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And for the first time I had to come to terms with who I was, and I think this whole experience has sensitized me as a person and individualized to me and so it's become a much, much bigger.

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Elizabeth Bellak: much bigger situation for me and just wanting to know about my past.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: um and how old were you when you found out about your mother's story, would it was was that something that she told you from a young age, was something you found out later in life.

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I think people have my mother's generation.

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I think.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I think she was reluctant to tell her story and unearth these painful memories, as she harbored these dark secrets that were simply too difficult and painful to tell.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Which is why we're also lucky to have her here, because there are few.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Who are still around and have the energy and capacity to do these things to do these types of events, who are first account witnesses to the atrocities of the war.

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Elizabeth Bellak: So she's here alive and vibrant and while her story may be difficult to share she never forgot her past I think she just put it aside so that she could continue and forge a life for herself here, and I think she realizes that this story has so much more relevance and.

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Elizabeth Bellak: you read this story.

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Elizabeth Bellak: and

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: May I asked like so you finally read it.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: What were your thoughts about it and how did you feel reading your sister's words and did you read did the memories resonate with you did it bring memories back that you hadn't thought about so I thought, those were a lot of questions.

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Elizabeth Bellak: yeah.

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Elizabeth Bellak: well.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I was heartbroken I couldn't read you read you know it was so hard I cried those poems and everything is upon me.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I remember how we live how wonderful she was she was shown man she loved life she liked the birds singing she likes the wind blow she saw that.

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Elizabeth Bellak: As a potential, you know the Rainbow she so every beauty in everything my sister, I mean she was just great.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And you know, and she made that statement was so good that's how we got this book.

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Elizabeth Bellak: You know, otherwise we wouldn't be here right that we wouldn't be here today, without this book and so she was so interested and of course we started a new life here I got married to Joy, they escaped from Vienna.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Also, you know Holocaust survivors, but I had a great connection I was married 53 years I have two wonderful children my daughter, I am my son Andrew wife Susan feel Nicholas Julian three boys, I mean, I have a little family otherwise if nobody.

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Elizabeth Bellak: So in my sin what was my daughter, who brought it to the front, so that we could all find out what it was otherwise would be still in that vault.

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Elizabeth Bellak: scribble on those little pieces of paper say notebook you know it's a thick thick note for 700 pages.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And this should go to the archives they wanted to take it at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC close the door data together and they called us and they said, you know de de de maybe you.

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Elizabeth Bellak: know, but you know I wasn't ready to give it up it's just too hard it's too hard, but I had a live here, I was a teacher in New York City 27 years I forgot about my story uh here I am again.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: I I am.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: I wanted to ask if you ever once you move back thought about revisiting your acting career.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Oh, can I, at my age, I would have loved it, but you know my life was very hard, when you arrived from the street is a country of milk and honey.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Yes, but you know.

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Elizabeth Bellak: it's very hard.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: I wanted to going back to run his diary I wanted to go back and say.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Reading it myself what an incredible writer What a beautiful poet she had so much promise and like you to reiterate what you said how she.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: found the beauty in these things, and one thing that struck me and that made it so devastating to read, is that, especially from the beginning to the end, that you see her she's just a normal teenager she's talking about crushes on boys that she'd.

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Elizabeth Bellak: grown up for her a.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Cherry mature for her age her relationship with zygmunt how he may be played a little hard to get but also her girlfriends she was friends with them, one day, and then they were in an argument, these are all things that teenagers.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: These days, that that everybody that goes through, and experiences mine, before I start taking questions from the viewers what is something if you had to say something to young people today.

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Elizabeth Bellak: In today's world can change the world.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: They can, and what they can learn from your experience and and run us experience, what do you have to say to young people today.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I want to say I love the young people, I was I love children, I was teaching a long time, and the children have the power, the US has the power to help the world.

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Elizabeth Bellak: They need not to have nationalism, they need to have acceptance tolerance love thy neighbor as thyself please.

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Elizabeth Bellak: You know don't hate the Jews, the Jews are decent people they're the same as the Christian addition people they're Muslim, please be.

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Elizabeth Bellak: tolerant, because this hatred in the world, it doesn't do any good it's only bloodshed in America, now we have too many guns too many kids are dying why.

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Elizabeth Bellak: it's not fair it's not fair, I will love the children, I wish my my mother saying when they say God bless America my mom cry so did I they gave us a home, we had no home nothing.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And now we're here, I have children, they took us it was great it's, the best thing, so the young people, they can do a lot.

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Elizabeth Bellak: They have the strength, they have the youth, they have the energy they can help the world they just have to look at it and see that there should be more talents that's why.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: You are absolutely an incredible woman in a beautiful person inside and out and i'm so honored to speak with you.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I think we're going to take a cup of.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: your daughter yes.

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Elizabeth Bellak: You bet my son, who was on the zoom today.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: yeah I want to take a couple of questions from the viewers.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: This is from Joanna can you talk about when when you reconnected with Judaism after living life as a Catholic and was that an easy transition and what was that for you.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I don't know, I was so confused, you know I I was totally confused, I went to Catholic schools, I went to Catholic Church.

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Elizabeth Bellak: You know I did come to synagogue as a child, but that was long ago, I still I don't know what it is, I just live now, I just want people to love each other, I don't care if you know so much about religion now because you know the which religious shape me.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Right, so you know you ask yourself these questions, what is it, why do they not you know, save me as a duet that we can have a to save me it's very confusing I was young, it was terrible I can't even.

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Elizabeth Bellak: fathom I didn't know what I was doing basically I wasn't brought up Catholic That was a young kid Jewish family.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Right very hard very hard confusing.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Another question that we have was how old was your mother, when you were reunited, and what kind of life did your mother live in the US, after the war.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Ah, my mother had a very hard life she had two jobs.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And she was she died Now let me see.

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Elizabeth Bellak: She was 63 years old, she died she died in 1969 69, but when we arrived, she was what she must have been stirred ish right.

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Elizabeth Bellak: and

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Elizabeth Bellak: She had a very hard time we first went to this family they had been here, it was in New Rochelle they had a black woman African American would say that was a housekeeper.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And they had a good lives, the sun went to princeton they mess up the boat, we came with Marina merlin was wintertime December 46 shortly after the war, because.

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Elizabeth Bellak: My mom to get the papers working for the Americans, and so we did we was there for two weeks and we were on our own my uncle from friends and my mother so money was very hard start.

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Elizabeth Bellak: It was very difficult and we didn't have anybody because they you know they we stayed there and then we were on our own, so it was very hard, our life wasn't easy.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And she worked in the bank then she worked as a dietitian and then she married and Americans a generation American client darden upstate New York, where she died in soda he's she was very young, yes fix history.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: um when you.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: When you came to the US could after being through all of these atrocities and traumatic experiences, did you ever really sense feel a sense of normal or calm once you got to be you.

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Elizabeth Bellak: know it was off on that boat, it was winter time it was a little crunchy boat everybody was dying, please stay for a minute don't go for it.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Those are all people they couldn't stand it and you know I mean, I was very happy that I was liberated that I didn't have the burden of being the Jew being shot.

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Elizabeth Bellak: You know that was my freedom here, and it was a great country, they didn't have done like now, so it was great it was wonderful so we live free now.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And we had some kind of a home we didn't know yet, but my mother had to look for a job because school you never place to live, you know it's very hard.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: And one and another question.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: So sigman brought you the diary What was your relationship with him like after that did you stay in contact with him, did you have a.

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Elizabeth Bellak: relationship, he was.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I have pictures, the thing was that I went to his daughter's wedding she's very nice pamela Schweitzer.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I went now he had the best friend His name was much too man, he also became a doctor, he was a doctor nyu for 50 years.

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Elizabeth Bellak: I was very close, he was actually my doctor I went to him, he always called me at em co and I went to the office, because he went to school with my sister yeah and also had a crush on my sister, but a you know.

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Elizabeth Bellak: zig one was a wonderful I his wife didn't want to see me remember my sister he had the shrine somewhere in a basement.

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Elizabeth Bellak: picture of my sister she did want to be reminded, they invited us for dinner once I went to the daughter's wedding I went to the bar mitzvah of myself to children.

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Elizabeth Bellak: But you know he couldn't but I did see him once in a while that see him but not very often you know, because what he invited me to the House, it was difficult with the LIFE you understand, like.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: it's so incredibly hard and complex and complicated i'm.

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Elizabeth Bellak: In high the vanity metrics and things have married she went to school and high turnover with Marcel segment for the Germans, let the Jews, you know from the cam sega and free education they became both doctors.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: I think I remember reading about him in venues diary actually.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: And I ended her talking about how there was a moment where Maybe she was she was wondering if there might be something there but there wasn't that she was ultimately in love with the segment.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: and also her poetry in her talking about Sigmund when she was in the ghetto, I mean, but that that it's just the way she found beauty in everything that I highly recommend anyone, please, please, please read this diary please read this diary it.

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Is.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: An important piece of work and of history and it's incredible to think about.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: You know her poetry.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And the travel.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Yes, I am I just her poetry is so profound, especially for someone of her age and her understanding of the world or someone her age, but then again she she had to because of the circumstances that she was in i'm just i'm so honored that you were willing to speak with me today and.

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Elizabeth Bellak: share your story honored to have you as that.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Wonderful actress look at that you're going to be famous right.

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Elizabeth Bellak: And then we'll REACH.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Those.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: sweet from your mouth to god's ears.

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Elizabeth Bellak: and

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Elizabeth Bellak: being very nice to see you.

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Stephanie Lynn Mason: Yes, thank you so much for having me also to the museum, for having me it's my absolute it's my absolute honor and just thank you so incredibly much.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Thank you for inviting me and my daughter.

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Ari Goldstein: and not be having the museum deep thanks to you stephanie for hosting and interviewing Elizabeth today, and you Elizabeth for sharing your story and Alexandra for making all of this possible.

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Ari Goldstein: to reaffirm stephanie's point the diaries amazing really encourage you to read it and there's a link in the chat.

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Ari Goldstein: We did record today's program, so we will email you tomorrow with a copy of the recording as well as a link that you can order randy's diary at and some other resources, including a terrific article and smithsonian magazine about how the diary was resurface and a little bit more detail.

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Ari Goldstein: Everything that we do with the museum is made possible through donor support so to those of you watching who are members or donors at the museum, thank you.

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Ari Goldstein: And if you're not we hope you'll consider making a donation to support our work Alexandra said it beautifully earlier that our mission is to preserve these stories and so that future generations never forget and learn those lessons to help you a little more tolerant world so.

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Ari Goldstein: We do our best, and we are grateful to all of you join us in that we do have a robust schedule of programs and events, including two programs this week or next story survive programs on may 27 you can find all of that information on our website, which is also in the zoom chat.

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Ari Goldstein: A very happy mother's day to everyone and.

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Elizabeth Bellak: Good luck.

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Elizabeth Bellak: mother's day.