HILLESUM Etty (Esther) — English

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HILLESUM Etty (Esther)

HILLESUM Etty (Esther)

Young Jewish thinker and writer who searched for the spiritual sense of life despite the inhumanity during the Nazi occupation.

1914 -  1943


Etty Hillesum obtained her master's degree in law, then studied Russian, her mother's mother tongue. She was forced to put a halt to her studies when World War II began. She then began to keep a diary (1941-1942) in order to relate the restrictions of the rights and the persecutions of the Dutch Jews, which led them to deportation, as well as her own thoughts.

From 1942 to 1943, she wrote letters from Westerbork transit camp, where she chose to work on several occasions in order to provide moral support to people in transit to the concentration camps. She refused to run away to stay with them, and then was deported herself with all her family. She died at Auschwitz in 1943.

Her writings are a testimony of her spirituality, of how she sought to bring spiritual support to her co-religionists and of the history of the Jews in the Netherlands in the face of the atrocities of Nazism.

During these terrible years, she kept an unshakeable faith in humankind despite the horrors committed every day before her eyes. Her immense love of life and her spiritual evolution brought her closer to Christianity, including self-sacrifice.


Her writings and diary were written between 1941 and 1943 (originals at the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam).
and have been republished. These include:

  • An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum, 1999
  • Letters from Westerbork. Introduction by Jan Geurt Gaarlandt, 1986
  • Dagboek van Etty Hillesum 1941-1943, 1981
  • The original handwritten letters and diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1941-43

Every atom of hatred

I know that those who hate have good reason to do so. But why should we always have to choose the cheapest and easiest way? It has been brought home forcibly to me here how every atom of hatred added to the world makes it an even more inhospitable place.2

Forgetting suffering, learning to just be

Such words as 'God' and 'Death' and 'Suffering' and 'Eternity' are best forgotten. We have to become as simple and as wordless as the growing wheat or the falling rain. We must just be."

  • Quote

Reclaiming large areas of peace in ourselves

Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”