Etty Hillesum (1914 – 1943)

“..Saturday morning 9:30 June 8th. 1941 ..I’ll turn inward ..and listen to my inner voice. It’s not enough just to move your arms and legs and all ..other muscles. ..Man is body and spirit. ..A lot of ..inner litter ..bits ..pieces have to be swept out first.” Etty Hillesum.

There are clearly 6,000,000 Jewish People who have simply stirred my effort, impressed my consciousness and moved me relentlessly to choose Always to Remember, Never to Forget them. As a non-Jew, now I hate to labour this point but, far too few non-Jews took the time to reach out to the Jewish People and abjectly failed to afford them any form of assistance, and as a result, we have The Holocaust.

“..Saturday morning 9:30 June 8th. 1941 ..Even a small head can be piled high inside with irrelevant distractions. ..there may be edifying emotions and thoughts ..but the inner clutter is ever present. ..with none of that treacherous undergrowth to impede ..view. ..something ..can enter you ..of Love. you can apply to small ..everyday things. ..I might ..confine myself to writing. ..patient examination of ..single thought ..even if none very important.” Etty Hillesum.

Here, in a epoch of the greatest moment of most urgent need, the entirety of humanity was kept afloat by a handfull of those righteous gentiles who are now honoured. I recognise too that the Jewish nature of their existence should have been more physically fought for, vociferously fought over and their presence should have been more strongly struggled with, if not to save them all then to make the effort to suggest we have saved more of them.

“..Saturday morning 9:30 June 8th. 1941 ..In ..past ..ambition stopped me from committing such trivia to paper. Everything had to be marvelous ..perfect ..I simply could not allow myself to write down any old thing ..even though I was sometimes bursting with ..longing to do just that.” Etty Hillesum.

All too many of these 6,000,000 Jews of Europe that we relentlessly look back to find, were considered less than worth saving. In all of that mixture of search, research and even emotion, there are so many of these Jews I feel more and more akin to, and for varying reasons. Initially, there is a more particular link to many of them from the personal introduction to them Survivor’s have afforded me.

“..Saturday morning 9:30 June 8th. 1941 ….what really matters is man’s soul or ..essence or whatever else you care to call what shines through from within. ” Etty Hillesum.

For both Tovah ‘Tokele’ Olshak and Etty Hillesum, their lives have so deeply impressed my train of thought, that my very words now have a concern more socially conscienced and aware. From the genesis of of my journey with the realistaion of Tovah’s Murder, at the age of 4, this Jewish Girl has led me forward in my study of why we seek to comprehend such incomprehensible acts.

“..We have to fight them daily fleas ..those many small worries about ..morrow ..for they sap our energies.” Etty Hillesum.

And then we have Etty Hillesum, who was born on January 15th. 1914 in Middelburg, Netherlands and I often intertwine her words with mine to add more relevance to my own search. Etty and her family were transported toward Destruction at Birkenau and from the transit Camp Westerbork, in the Netherlands. This was the same route some 100,000 other Dutch Jews who were deported from and mostly for destruction at Birkenau.

“..Tuseday August 24th. 1943 ..There was a moment when I felt in all seriousness that after this night would be a sin ever to laugh again. ..I reminded myself that some of those who had gone away had been laughing ..even if only a handful of them this time. ..I have told you often enough that no words and images are adequate to describe nights like these. But still I must try to convey something of it for you. ..babies ..those tiny piercing screams of ..babies ..dragged from their cots in ..middle of ..night.” Etty Hillesum.

Also, with many of these Dutch Jews being annihilated in Sobibor, Holland is a major centre of loss for the Jews of Europe. For Etty who was transported along with her Family, her Mother Riva Bernstein Hillesum, her Father Levie Hillesum and her Brother Mischa Hillesum on September 7th. 1943. On this same day, September 7th. 1943, Etty scripted a post card which she threw from the transport train and it was found and eventually delivered, sometime after September 15th. 1943, its date of postmark and today we are gifted with these last of her words.

“..Tuseday August 24th. 1943 ..This is what has been happening now for over a year ..week in ..week out. We are left with just a few 1,000. ..100,000 Dutch members of our race are toiling away under an unknown sky or lie rotting in some unknown soil. We know nothing of their fate. It is only a short while ..perhaps ..before we find out ..each one of us in his own time. For we are all marked down to share that fate ..of that I have not a moment’s doubt.” Etty Hillesum.

For Etty, that certain fate brought the Family together as they reached their destination at Auschwitz on September 10th. 1943. Of the Hillesum’s to be resettled, both her Parents were gassed in Birkenau that day. The end for Etty Hillesum came when she was Murdered on November 30th. 1943 in Birkenau and there is a perceptible loss and it is weighted more heavily because it has been recognised personally. For Etty’s Brother Mischa, he died on March 1944 while Jaap died after Belsen Camp became liberated by the British Army on April 12th. 1944.

“..Tuesday September 7th. 1943 Christine. ..I am sitting on my rucksack in ..middle of a full freight car. Father ..Mother ..and Mischa are a few cars away. ..departure came without warning. ..sudden special orders from The Hague. We left signing ..Father ..Mother firmly ..Mischa too. We shall be travelling for 3 days.” Etty Hillesum.

Then, and given this knowledge of the Murder of Etty, I refused to finish the last few pages of her works, wishing to hold onto her very existence, even though I knew she had already long been Murdered. It is relevant to all that we seek to search for and for me, that we have these last words from her to take her memory forward. It is certainly true that we have no more words to come from Etty, but we are equally aware that Etty’s words will prevail, they will last and we shall Remember her by them.

“..Tuesday September 7th. 1943 Thank you for all your kindness and care. Friends left behind will still be writing to Amsterdam ..perhaps you will hear something from them. Or from my last letter from Camp. Good bye for now from ..4 of us. ..Etty.” Etty Hillesum.