In the face of the growing horror confronting Jews in Holland in 1942, the extraordinary young mystic Etty Hillesum proposed love as the only solution.

Saturday June 1942 – everywhere signs barring Jews form the paths and the open country. But above the one narrow path still left to us stretches the sky, intact. They can’t do anything to us, they really can’t. They can harass us, they can rob us of our material goods, of our freedom of movement, but we ourselves forfeit our greatest assets by our misguided compliance. By our feelings of being persecuted, humiliated, and oppressed. By our own hatred. By our swagger, which hides our fear. We may of course be sad and depressed by what has been done to us; that is only human and understandable. However: our greatest injury is one we inflict upon ourselves. I find life beautiful, and I feel free. The sky within me is as wide as the one stretching above my head. I believe in God and I believe in man, and I say so without embarrassment. Life is hard, but that is no bad thing. If one starts by taking one’s own importance seriously, the rest follows. It is not morbid individualism to work on oneself. True peace will come only when every individual finds peace within himself; when we have all vanquished and transformed our hatred for our fellow human beings of whatever race – even into love one day, although perhaps that is asking too much. It is, however, the only solution. I am a happy person and I hold life dear indeed, in this year of Our Lord 1942, the umpteenth year of war. 177

Confronted with unimaginable cruelty Etty found she was unable to hate. Instead, she discovered in her heart growing love for all people.

We go too far in fearing for our unhappy bodies, while our forgotten spirit shrivels up in some corner. Our lives are going wrong, we conduct ourselves without dignity. We lack a historical sense. I hate nobody. I am not embittered. And once the love of mankind has germinated in you, it will grow without measure. (Hillesum, Etty. An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43. trans. Arnold J. Pomeran. London: Persephone Books, 1999, 220, 221)

 

 

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