Even in the horrific conditions of Westerbork transit camp awaiting transport to Auschwitz, Etty Hillesum found love growing in her heart.

In Etty’s letters from Westerbork the vibrancy of her experience of love frequently breaks through.

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. And I also believe, childishly perhaps but stubbornly, that the earth will become more habitable again only through the love that the Jew Paul described to the citizens of Corinth in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter. 312

From Westerbork, 3 July 1943 – The misery here is quite terrible; and yet, late at night when the day has slunk away into the depths behind me, I often walk with a spring in my step along the barbed wire. And then time and again, it soars straight from my heart – I can’t help it, that’s just the way it is, like some elementary force – the feeling that life is glorious and magnificent, and that one day we shall be building a whole new world. Against every new outrage and every fresh horror, we shall put up one more piece of love and goodness, drawing strength from within ourselves. We may suffer, but we must not succumb. 355

From Westerbork, 8 August 1943 – Many feel that their love of mankind languishes at Westerbork because it receives no nourishment – meaning that people here don’t give you much occasion to love them. ‘The mass is a hideous monster; individuals are pitiful,’ someone said. But I keep discovering that there is no causal connection between people’s behaviour and the love you feel for them. Love for one’s fellow man is like an elemental glow that sustains you. The fellow man himself has hardly anything to do with it. Oh Maria, it’s a little bit bare of love here, and I myself feel so inexpressibly rich; I cannot explain it. 386, 387

From Westerbork after 18 August 1943 – More and more I tend towards the idea that love for everyone who may cross your path, love for everyone made in God’s image, must rise above love for blood relations. Please don’t misunderstand me. It may seem unnatural – And I see that it is still far too difficult for me to write about, though so simple to live. 397

Hillesum, Etty. An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43. trans. Arnold J. Pomeran. London: Persephone Books, 1999.

Advertisements