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ICON Seminar 6

Dartington Hall, UK


An interrupted life:The Diaries 1941-1943

Timora Rosler

Last updated August 19, 2013

“ I hope I shall remember everything that happens to us so that one day I’ll be able to retell it all. It is so different from everything you read in books, altogether different. So I make a mental note of every small gesture, every utterance, every facial expression, and I do so with almost cold detachment. I approach things like an artist and expect that later, when I feel the need to tell everything, I shall have what talent it takes to do so…”

“ Life is so odd and so surprising and so infinitely varied, and at every twist of the road the whole vista changes all of a sudden. Most of the people carry stereotyped ideas about life in their heads. We have to rid ourselves of all preconceptions, of all slogans, of all sense of security, every standard, every conventional bulwark. Only then will life become infinitely rich and overflowing, even in the suffering it deals out to us…”

Quotes from Etty Hillesum’s “An interrupted life-The Diaries 1941-1943”

Etty Hillesum’s diary and letters give us the fullest possible portrait of this extraordinary woman. In the darkest years of Nazi occupation and genocide, Etty Hillesum remained a celebrant of life whose lucid intelligence, sympathy, and almost impossible gallantry were themselves a form of inner resistance. The adult counterpart to Anne Frank, Hillesum testifies to the possibility of awareness and compassion in the face of the most devastating challenge to one’s humanity.

Her most intense need , and gift, was for the inner life. Her essential existence, she often reminded herself, took place in her privacy of self-reflection. By winding her way through her own psyche to the point of self-reconciliation, she had come to a place where she could feel the hidden harmony of the world.

Hillesum had the courage  to follow the thread of her own experience-and that thread took her further still, in more unexpected radical directions.

She chose her own way in religion, not inspired by church or synagogue, or by dogmas, theology, liturgy, or tradition; all these were completely alien to her. She addressed god as she did herself. Her god, in a sense, resided in her own capacity to see the truth, to bear it and find consolation in it.

In the midst of suffering and injustice, she believed, the effort to preserve in one’s heart a spirit of love and forgiveness was the greatest task that any person could perform.

She died at Auschwitz in 1943 at the age of twenty-nine.




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