Etty Hillesum

Updated: 14 October 2018



Esther “Etty” Hillesum (15 January 1914 in Middelburg, Netherlands – 30 November 1943 in Auschwitz, Poland) was a young Jewish woman whose letters and diaries, kept between 1941 and 1943, describe life in Amsterdam during the German occupation. They were published posthumously in 1981, before being translated into English in 1983.

In the meantime the letters and diary are translated in many languages. More and more Etty Hillesum’s name and writings are known for more and more people and it is still growing. Her texts are nourishing emotionally, mentally and spiritually, are a proof of the possibility to transform life by accepting (even the worst) circumstances instead of running away for what life brings. She was joining the Jews to Westerbork, freely. She did not want to leave her people. Though she had the possibility to escape.

There is a film  and a play about her. More versions of both expression forms are being created, but I do not believe so much in a plausible performance of the role of Etty Hillesum, in a way that you can really experience her inbeing, her thoughts, Etty as one does when reading the book. In the book you connect really with her, sense her presence in her own words. Translated words do not bring you so near to her as her own in the Dutch language written words. However, much closer than any actress.

Another, and better way of “performing” Etty Hillesum is painting her. I found three paintings and they are indeed all three completely different from each other.  I used these in my video about her: “Etty Hillesum, the road from Amsterdam via Westerbork to Auschwitz”. In the video I used also scenes of Amsterdam in the years that Etty Hillesum lived there. Also scenes from Westerbork, the deportations of the Jews from Westerbork to Auschwitz, where she passed away on 30 November 1943.

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Sources and additional information

  1. Google+: Etty Hillesum
  2. Music in the video: