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Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life the Diaries, 1941-1943 and Letters from…

by Etty Hillesum

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4011047,430 (4.32)7
For the first time, Etty Hillesum's diary and letters appear together to give us the fullest possible portrait of this extraordinary woman in the midst of World War II. In the darkest years of Nazi occupation and genocide, Etty Hillesum remained a celebrant of life whose lucid intelligence, sympathy, and almost impossible gallantry were themselves a form of inner resistance. The adult counterpart to Anne Frank, Hillesum testifies to the possibility of awareness and compassion in the face of the most devastating challenge to one's humanity. She died at Auschwitz in 1943 at the age of twenty-nine.… (more)

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English (9)  French (1)  All languages (10)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Etty Hillesum:An Interrupted Life: the Diaries, 1941-1943 and Letters from Westerbork. Etty Hillesum.1996. This is the most meaningful, beautiful, and soulful book I have read by a Holocaust victim. Etty has been called an older Anne Frank. My first exposure to the Holocaust came in the 9th grade when I read Anne Frank and Leon Uris’s Exodus, I was so emotionally inexperienced that while I was horrified I could not fully understand the true loss and terror of losing everyone you loved and yourself. Etty was older than Frank and a “liberated” young woman. I was initially a little impatient with her until I put my 25 year old self in her place! Etty kept a diary until she moved to Westebork which was a holding station in Amsterdam for Jews before they were transported to Poland to concentrations camps. The letters are from the camp. Her transformation from an flighty young woman to a strong, determined woman seems almost miraculous. She spent her time at Westerbork doing her best to make the hellish situation easier for others. She refused to give in to despair or hate. Her “companions” were the Bible and Rilke. We can all learn from Etty. ( )
  judithrs | Feb 20, 2021 |
Power insight into one woman's experience of the Holocaust from a spiritual point of view. There is much to feed on here regarding how we are living our lives and appreciating what we have. Cannot recommend this highly enough. ( )
  KaleidoSoul | Jul 3, 2019 |
This writing is the diary of Etty Hillesum, who perished in Auschwitz on Tuesday, November 30, 1943 at the age of 29. She records her experience from Sunday, March 9, 1941 to Wednesday, September 15,1943. We owe it to Etty to know her story and the beautiful hopeful legacy that she has left to us. She maintains that she finds life meaningful. We see her grow psychologically, morally and spiritually. But to do so she has to fight herself and her fellow Jews who are naturally embittered by their plight. It consists not only in doing what's right in thought, word and deed but developing a sense of peace in her inner life where she comes intuitively to know God. She refuses to give herself to hate. Moreover she makes it her mission to help fellow compatriots. We see in this diary a portrait of someone who self-examines and seeks to be reformed, having only a slender image of God. Almost intuitively, she seems to have learned of a loving God without a formal religious structure. Her reading of good literature, including the Bible were likely helpful aids. Her favorite act is to be on bended knee. Never is there a trace of blaming God. Moreover, we see her interact with her compatriots with joy, compassion and honesty. Bottom line, if she can prevail over rightful bitterness, despair and cynicism, and come to love both enemy and neighbor, perhaps we can also in our varied circumstances. ( )
  allenkeith | Jun 17, 2019 |
One of the 10 best books I've ever read. It is in translation, so this rating is for content and not lyric quality. An adult parallel of Anne Frank, Etty resolves "I will not hate the Germans." Her love is gritty and practical. I reread this text regularly for insight. ( )
  MaryHeleneMele | May 7, 2019 |
A first-hand account of terrible events always resonates strongly I think, but when that first-hand account is beautifully written, with real spiritual depth and intelligence it becomes something rather more special. Etty Hillesum a young Jewish, Russian scholar shared a house with a group of other intellectuals in Amsterdam during World War Two. Etty’s remarkable diaries shine a light on the changing times as the Nazi’s vile agenda and the continually worsening strictures placed upon Jewish citizens gradually take hold. Initially however the terrible times in which Etty and her friends are living serve as something of a backdrop to Etty’s ruminations on life, love and spirituality. While living as the mistress of the much older man who owns the house where she lives, Etty also begins a relationship with another older man, a psychoanalyst, palm reader and therapist Julius Spier – whose methods seem questionable at best. With Spier Etty developed a strong and passionate connection, and learned a lot about love and spirituality. Spier’s unique influence lasted for the rest of Etty’s tragically short life.
“Sometimes I long for a convent cell, with the sublime wisdom of centuries set out on bookshelves all along the wall and a view across the cornfields--there must be cornfields and they must wave in the breeze--and there I would immerse myself in the wisdom of the ages and in myself. Then I might perhaps find peace and clarity. But that would be no great feat. It is right here, in this very place, in the here and the now, that I must find them. ”
Etty begins work as an assistant for The Jewish Council – the organisation that helped in the implementation of the latest restrictions that the Nazi’s put upon Jewish Dutch citizens. Etty had an enormously difficult role to play, but it was one that allowed her to gain an acute understanding of fascism and oppression. Etty’s spirit is what comes across so powerfully in these diary entries, her refusal to hate may seem strange to some, yet it simply feels remarkable and poignant.
“I had a liberating thought that surfaced in me like a hesitant, tender young blade of grass thrusting its way through a wilderness of weeds: If there were only one decent German, then he should be cherished despite the whole barbaric gang, and because of that one decent German it is wrong to pour hatred over an entire people”
In her role as an assistant to the Jewish Council, Etty volunteered to accompany other Jewish people to Westerbork camp. Westerbork camp was the place from where people were “transported” to Auschwitz. In letters from Westerbork camp in 1942 and 1943, Etty describes vividly the overcrowding, fear and the daily struggle to survive. Initially Etty’s role came with certain privileges – which meant she could help many people at Westerbork, she was also allowed (required in fact) to return to Amsterdam for several months when she was suffering from serious health issues. However, even when back in Amsterdam, once she had spent time in Westerbork, Etty belonged heart and soul to her people, and was desperate to return to them. Whilst away from Westerbork she wrote wonderful letters to the circle of new friends she had gathered around her there. Etty looked forward to going back to them, never doubting that her health would improve just enough to allow her to go back. She refused all attempts from friends to save her, refused to go into hiding – Etty knew what her fate would be ultimately – and she faced it bravely all the time trying to calm the fears of those around, she persisted in talking about a time when she would be returned to her friends, and all should be over. This was a time, when those at Westerbork did not know of the horrors of the gas chambers, although “Poland” as it was always termed, was synonymous with death, no one seemed to doubt that “transportation” could only end one way. For some time, Etty was able to travel, send letters unrestricted and could intervene to keep people off the list for the next transportation. Slowly however, and inevitably Etty’s privileges were removed, she could no longer leave, her influence lessened. Good friends from Amsterdam, as well as members of her own family had joined her in Westerbork, and slowly the camp emptied, as more and more people were transported out to Poland. Their turn had to come, and come it did, in September 1943 Etty, and her brother and parents were herded on to that train heading away from Holland and to certain death. Etty Hillesum died in November 1943 in Auschwitz – thanks to this book some of her spirit survives.
According to Jan G Gaarandt’s introduction; survivors of the holocaust who had known Etty in Westerbork camp were later to speak of Etty Hillesum as a shining personality for me that is unsurprising, as reading her words is a powerful and emotional experience, how much more impressive would it have been to have known her.
The diary section of this book clearly show Etty to have been a thoughtful, intelligent woman, deeply introspective at times she examines herself and criticises what she sees around her with a surprising lack of bitterness. In the letters from Westerbork, we see a lighter side of Etty at times, but I felt I also heard her voice, the way she spoke to her friends – her wish to shield those she loved from the terrors around them – her love for whom she calls her people and of course her family, for whom she does all she can, even when often suffering herself. It is astonishing to me that Etty Hillesum isn’t as well-known as Anne Frank. It is again thanks to the wonderful Persephone books that a woman who could have been tragically forgotten by history again is given a voice. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Nov 20, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Etty Hillesumprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hoffman, EvaForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When we pick up Etty Hillesum's diaries and letters today, we know from the outset what will come at their tragic end.
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For the first time, Etty Hillesum's diary and letters appear together to give us the fullest possible portrait of this extraordinary woman in the midst of World War II. In the darkest years of Nazi occupation and genocide, Etty Hillesum remained a celebrant of life whose lucid intelligence, sympathy, and almost impossible gallantry were themselves a form of inner resistance. The adult counterpart to Anne Frank, Hillesum testifies to the possibility of awareness and compassion in the face of the most devastating challenge to one's humanity. She died at Auschwitz in 1943 at the age of twenty-nine.

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