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 will be interviewed by Stephanie Lynne Mason, a Broadway actress known for leading roles in Fiddler on the Roof and Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish.
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Stories Survive is made possible by the Goldie & David Blanksteen Foundation.
Public programming at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is made possible, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council; the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; a Humanities New York CARES Grant with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the federal CARES Act; and other generous donors.
Image Credit: Claire Rosen