I have more than one friend who has read and admired Etty Hillesum. She is someone they have read and found their own lives, perhaps almost imperceptibly, altered by the life she lived which was cut far too short. I know from our conversations Cath has spent a lot of time reading and reflecting on Etty's words. She has chosen Etty Hillesum as the topic of her post today.
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Sunday, 9th March 
Here goes, then. This is a painful and well-nigh insuperable step for me: yielding up so much that has been suppressed to a blank sheet of lined paper. The thoughts in my head are sometimes so clear and so sharp and my feelings so deep, but writing about them comes hard.
When in 1941 Julius Spier (1887-1942), a Jewish psycho-analytic chirologist from Germany who studied with C.G. Jung, starts reading hands in Etty Hillesum’s circle of friends in Amsterdam she calls him her midwife. It is Spier who tells Etty keeping a diary and meditation are essential tools in the process of ‘becoming who you are’.
Reluctant at first, Etty soon finds the writing quiets her restless mind and meditation helps her to find a ‘silent room’ inside herself where she can retreat to whenever the turmoil of the world is too much. While German oppression of Jewish people in The Netherlands makes her outer world smaller her inner world unfolds to beauty and freedom.
She has been given very little time to become the writer she longs to be. Born in 1914 she is 27 when starting her diary. In 1942, on September 15th, Julius Spier the man who has meant so much to her, passes away, the following day he would have been taken by the Gestapo. Etty is grateful he died of an illness instead of being deported and knows she will continue her inner journey on her own. But when her parents and brother Mischa on the 7th of September 1943 are summoned to pack up and leave Westerbork - a transit camp in the east of the country near the German border - Etty decides to go with them. She throws a last card from the train. ‘Will you wait for me?’, she asks. Etty Hillesum is 29 years old when on November 30th 1943 she is killed in Auschwitz.
Life calls us to find our answers to oftentimes hard questions in our own particular way. Etty reveals her inner development to us through writing and I am lost for words when I witness the depth she reaches in such a short time. Writing about the futility of hate, or how changing the world comes by working at changing oneself, about solidarity with her people and how to live that solidarity. Over the years and being introspective myself she has become a guide. Someone I meet on a regular basis. We meet and sometimes clash. As we undoubtedly will when from the 9th of August onward I will combine rereading her letters with reflective writing. Not one letter after another but one by one in a little over two years and according to her writing dates; from the first one to that final message found in a field near a train track.
By CathvdL, 's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, July 18, 2014
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Many thanks to Cath for once again introducing me (and perhaps a few of you, too) to a Dutch writer/diarist whose work is both tragic and inspirational. She is someone I have long wanted to read but have a feeling I must have a little courage to pick up her diaries.