Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum 1941-1943

Posted by nliakos on August 29, 2015

by Etty Hillesum, edited by J. G. Gaarlandt (Washington Square Press 1983; original Dutch copyright 1981; ISBN 0-671-74555-7)

Anyone who has read The Diary of Anne Frank (and who hasn’t?) would find many parallels in this lesser known first-person account of the Holocaust. Etty Hillesum was much older than Anne Frank–27 when she began the diary in March of 1941 and 29 when she died in Auschwitz in November of 1943. But she was Dutch (Actually, Anne Frank was not Dutch but German, but she was living in the Netherlands when she went into hiding with her family and wrote her famous diary.), and in these pages she wrote down the most intimate thoughts and details about her life.

Etty was a free thinker, and many would call her promiscuous. She was also profoundly spiritual. She sometimes reminded me of a Catholic saint. Her main goal in life was to help others, and her greatest passion was for life itself, which she unfailingly found to be beautiful no matter what the circumstances.

Much of the diary concerns her relationship with Julius Spier, a German Jewish psychochirologist who was her mentor, employer (perhaps unpaid?), friend, and lover. To me, Spier seems to have been an extraordinarily charismatic quack who took advantage of the many women, including Etty, who found him irresistible. But who knows? He may really have been the genius she thought he was.

Like Anne Frank, Etty never lost her sense of optimism and hope. She was unafraid of dying, and although she knew well that the Nazis’ goal was the extermination of the Jews, she did not believe that they would succeed (and she was right).

What I admired most about Etty was her deep sense of justice. She was keenly aware of the advantages she enjoyed and did not wish or try to escape the fate of her fellow Jews. In similar circumstances, I would hope to have her courage and faith.

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One Response to “An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum 1941-1943”

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