Etty Hillesum

Etty Hillesum is a Dutch Jew who died in Auschwitz in November 1943.  Before she died she wrote a journal that she started in early 1941.  Her writing shows her growing spiritual strength.  I have gone to her for help in these times where the ovens don’t seem very far away.

[When I say life is beautiful and meaningful] does that mean I am never sad, that I never rebel, always acquiesce, and love life no matter what the circumstances?  No, far from it.  I believe that I know and share the many sorrows and sad circumstances that a human being can experience, but I do not cling to them, I do not prolong such moments of agony.  They pass through me, like life itself, as a broad, eternal stream, they become part of that stream, and life continues.  And as a result all my strength is preserved, does not become tagged on to futile sorrow or rebelliousness.

And finally: ought we not, from time to time, open ourselves up to cosmic sadness?  One day I shall surely be able to say to Ilse Blumenthal, “Yes, life is beautiful, and I value it anew at the end of every day, even though I know that the sons of mothers, and you are one such mother, are being murdered in concentration camps.  And you must be able to bear your sorrow; even if it seems to crush you, you mustn’t run away from it, but bear it like an adult.  Do not relieve your feelings through hatred, do not seek to be avenged on all German mothers, for they, too, sorrow at this very moment for their slain and murdered sons.  Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears his grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate.  But if you do not clear a decent shelter for your sorrow, and instead reserve most of the space inside you for hatred and thoughts of revenge — from which new sorrows will be born for others — then sorrow will never cease in this world and will multiply.  And if you have given sorrow the space its gentle origins demand, then you may truly say: life is beautiful and so rich.  So beautiful and so rich that it makes you want to believe in God.’”

— Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life, pp100-101

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