Elizabeth Bellak and my mother met in Poland, when Elizabeth was just a child and mama a teenager. Years later, they reconnected in New York and have been best friends and confidants ever since. Elizabeth, her husband George, and their children Andrew and Alexandra visited us on Long Island more often than our biological relatives did. In fact, I’ve grown up calling her my aunt.
Elizabeth is as outgoing as my mother is shy. She loves to socialize, to tell stories, even to sing and dance. She dresses elegantly in heels and designer clothes, her hair and make up always perfect. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in pants.
But she and my mother share a deep fondness for each other. They also share a hidden Jewish heritage that they kept silent about until recently. Elizabeth was actually Ariana Spiegel, born in eastern Poland in what is now Ukraine. Her talent was recognized at a young age, when she appeared in films like Gehenna, and was called “the Polish Shirley Temple.”
Ariana as the Gypsy girl in Gehenna, 1938.
Review of Ariana Spigiel’s performance in Gehenna. She is called the “Polish Shirley Temple.” In Kurier Filmowy 1938, vol. 12, nr.27.
Her older sister Renia was equally talented, though as a writer and poet. Renia kept a diary for the last few years of her short life which has just been published along with her poetry (in Polish, though there are plans for it to be published in English as well).
I can’t wait to read it.