Deepening in the Shallows of Persecution
The life and diaries of Etty Hillesum
In the face of bodily dissolution by Nazi killers, Dutch-Jewish thinker, writer, and mystic, Etty Hillesum, sought unification with the Divine. Hillesum faced death by living life. Not merely by continuing to breathe, but by living a life fully alive. She fiercely refused to be defined by those who sought her death. She demonstrated that even in the midst of confinement and death, the spirit is truly free.
“This morning I cycled along the Station Quay enjoying the broad sweep of the sky at the edge of the city and breathing unrationed air. And everywhere signs barring Jews from 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 not a 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…”