Etty Hillesum

also available in German

born 15 January 1914 in Middelburg
murdered 30 November 1943 in Auschwitz

Dutch author and mystic; Nazi victim


BiographyQuotesWeblinksLiterature & Sources


Biography

On March 9, 1941 Etty Hillesum, the 26-year-old daughter of a respectable Jewish family, an intellectual with a completed law degree as well as a student of Slavic studies and psychology in Amsterdam, began the diary which would deeply move readers in Holland when it was published 40 years later. Within five years of its release the diary had been translated into 12 languages and reached a world-wide audience.

In May 1940 Holland had capitulated; the Nazis immediately began their terror against the Jewish population. Early in 1941 Etty met a Jewish emigrant from Berlin who was twice her age: Julius Spier, the founder of “Psychochirology”, a psychotherapeutic type of palmistry. She became his assistant and lover. The relationship provided support to both of them in this ever darker time: “… the only important thing now is to be good to one another with all the kindness we can muster. And every moment of being together is also a farewell.”

The diary, which spans nearly one and a half years, documents an unbelievable spiritual maturation; Etty Hillesum carries on a “crazy or childlike or deadly serious dialogue with the very deepest part of myself, which for simplicity’s sake I call God.” She might perhaps have been able to escape, but she did not want to: “… it is not at all that I’m virtually dashing towards my doom with a serene smile … I know that I would not feel right at all if I were spared what so many have to endure.”

Etty entered the transit camp Westerbork as a relatively privileged member of the Jewish Council. She consoled and helped where she could, and, as survivors reported, was “a shining personality” right up to the end. The last part of her diary was not handed down to us. Etty took it with her when she, along with her whole family, was deported to Auschwitz on September 7, 1943.

(trans. Ute Methner and Joey Horsley)

Luise F. Pusch

Quotes

“An incessant self-analysis, which takes on a universal character at many points. By this I mean: Etty Hillesum describes in her diary not only herself, but the humane possibilities of every other human being at any point in time”. (J. G. Gaarlandt, editor of Etty Hillesum’s diary, in the introduction).

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Weblinks

Etty Hillesum research center (English and Dutch)

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Literature

Brenner, Rachel Feldhay. 1997. Writing as Resistance: Four Women Confronting the Holocaust: Edith Stein, Simone Weil, Anne Frank, Etty Hillesum. University Park, PA. Pennsylvania State UP.

Hillesum, Etty. 1986 [1982]. Letters From Westerbork [=Het denkende hart van de barak]. Einleitg. u. Anm.  G. Gaarlandt. Aus dem Niederl. von Arno Pomerans. New York. Pantheon.

Neri, Nadia. 1999. Un’estrema compassione: Etty Hillesum testimone e vittima del lager. Milano. Mondadori.

Women Writers of Great Britain and Europe: An Encyclopedia. Hg. Katharina M. Wilson and Paul & June Schlueter. New York & London. Garland. 1997.

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Hedwig Dohm