Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork by Etty Hillesum – Susan’s Newsletter Feb. & April 2009



Life is Beautiful – Regardless of Circumstances (WW2 Diary of Etty Hillesum)
February 26, 2009 Susan’s Newsletter
followed by April 2, 2009 (finding beauty & God in midst of horrible circumstances)

Hi!!  All week long I’ve been frustrated because I just can’t find anything that I want to read (I’ve heard that from you before!!)  But, determined as I was to find something for all of you…I have pulled & pulled books…nothing inspiring or even interesting.  Then tonight I read an excerpt about a woman and was completely mesmerized!  I’ve been on the internet reading about her life, I’ve ordered her diaries….and I’ve written out for you some of what she’s written.  So, there we go!  Perseverance to find something worth thinking about and helping us in our own personal situations, regardless of them being sickness, tiredness, weather blues, parenting exhaustion, economic stress…here we go with some encouragement! 

The book I’ve ordered is Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork by Etty Hillesum.  I had never heard of her before, but am looking forward to the book I ordered for all of us of her diary and letters kept between 1941 and 1943 during the last two years of her life before dying in Auschwitz at the age of only 29 in 1943.  “The adult counterpart to Anne Frank, she testifies to the possibility of awareness and compassion in the face of the most devastating challenge to one’s humanity…for the religious, content of the diary is heart and breath-taking…the end of the diary Etty is a totally different woman…”

“You have made me so rich, oh God, please let me share out Your beauty with open hands.  My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with You, oh God, one great dialogue.  Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on Your earth, my eyes raised towards Your Heaven, tears sometimes run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude.  At night, too, when I lie in my bed and rest in You, oh God, tears of gratitude run down my face, and that is my prayer.  I have been terribly tired for several days, but that, too, will pass; things come and go in a deeper rhythm and people must be taught to listen to it, it is the most important thing we have to learn in this life.  I am not challenging You, oh God, my life is one great dialogue with You.  I may never become the great artist I would really like to be, but I am already secure in You, God.  Sometimes I try my hand at turning out small profundities and uncertain short stories, but I always end up with just one single word:  God.  And that says everything and there is no need for anything more.  And all my creative powers are translated into inner dialogues with You; the beat of my heart has grown deeper, more active and yet more peaceful, and it is as if I were all the time storing up inner riches.”

Suddenly everything is changed, what kind of inner process I don’t know.  But it is so different…a thousand oppressive fetters are shaken off.  Now freely I do breathe.  I feel strong and with resplendent eyes I look around.  I’ve stopped wanting to possess.  I am free.  Now I possess everything.  My inner wealth is immeasurable. (Mar 17, 1941).

“I believe I should better do it: ‘fall inward’ in the morning before I go to work, for half an hour.  To listen to what’s inside of me.  ‘Sich versenken’.  You can also call it meditation.  But that word gives me the creeps…Let this be the goal of meditation: to become like a wide open space, without that sneaky brushwood taking away your vista.  That something like ‘God’ can enter, just like there is something of ‘God’ in the 9th of Beethoven.  (June 8, 1941).

Inside of me there is a deep well.  In it God sits.  Sometimes I can reach him.  But more often stones and debris block the entrance.  Then God lies buried.  Then he needs to be excavated.  I can imagine some people praying with their eyes raised up toward heaven.  They look for God outside.  But other people lower their head and hide it in their hands.  I suppose they look for God inside them.  (Aug 26, 1941).
I have by now the final remedy.  It is better in a little corner to crouch on the ground and hunched like that to listen to what’s inside of me.  Mere thinking will never avail.  Thought is a beautiful and proud occupation as study is concerned.  But you can never think your way ‘heraus’ of difficult emotional problems.  Something else needs to be done.  You have to make yourself passive and listen.  Get into touch with that little piece of eternity inside of you.  Lord, rather give me wisdom, instead of knowledge.  (Sept. 4, 1941).

Life is beautiful to me and worth living and full of meaning.  Despite everything.  (July 1, 1942).

When I pray, I never pray for myself, always for others.  (July 15, 1942).

Yes, my Lord, I remain very faithful to you, through thick and thin…The only human thing that still remains in these times is: to kneel before you, O God. 

There are moments when I feel like a little bird, covered by a big protecting hand.  (July 28, 1942).

I love to find someone that I’ve never even read or heard of, know that there are actual letters and diaries coming to me within the week….there is just no end to all that we can find to occupy our minds, is there?  The choice is ours – be determined to read at least a page of something worth reading at night, or just staring at the TV or e-mails.   Our choice.  Continually changing and growing. 

Stu just said to me, “What are you doing, writing on such a depressing situation (Auschwitz) on such a cold night?  Have you ever read quotes by Charles Schultz?!?!” – So, you know what, next week – I’ll have quotes by Charles Schultz & all of his friends – so there!!!  We can all handle only so much thinking!!!  Have a great week.  I’m pretty sure spring is only about 4 months away.  See, it’s not that bad!  And, did I tell you how much it matters that you come in the store?  Well, if you don’t realize it, let me say so again – your business means more than I can ever tell you on making this store continue to grow.  I’m always disappointed when you come and I’m not there – but know that I thank you from wherever I am when I see your name!!!  Go take on your day and make yourself proud with decisions you make that only you know you make.  Don’t freeze!  Susan

Latin for this week:
vita pulchra est – Life is beautiful.
(This phrase was written by Leon Trotsky. While being targeted for execution, he was staring out of a window and watching his wife in the garden. This scene inspired Trotsky to write that life is beautiful, even though his world was coming to an end.)

Works Cited:
Hillesum, Etty.  An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork.  1996.  Picador.  New York.

April 2, 2009 Susan’s Newsletter
Book Quotes
   Book Notes:  A Reader’s Journal by Julia Hecomovich
Finding beauty in life even in horrible circumstances.
   An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork by Etty Hillesum (died in concentration camps)

Hi all of you!  Even the coffee doesn’t seem to be working this morning, but noticing the wind isn’t blowing yet is seeming to be sufficient for getting me going today.  If you’re not living in Nebraska and get this note – be glad…the wind was ridiculous this week.  If you’re in Nebraska….well, at least you made it to today!  Your local broadcaster…me…calm at this point!  I was given a beautiful book this week that I will be getting in for all of you.  Book Notes.  Along with quotes there are empty journal pages for your favorite books, books loaned out, books you’d like to read, etc.  Here are some of the quotes that I especially liked, some making me laugh, some serious.  They’re worth writing down!

I find television very educational.  Every time someone switches it on, I go into another room and read a good book.  Groucho Marx

The contents of someone’s bookcase are part of his history, like an ancestral portrait.  Antole Broyard

You think your pains and your heartbreaks are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.  It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who have ever been alive.  James Baldwin

Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.  Henry David Thoreau

Never lend books, for no one ever returns them.  The only books I have in my library are those that other folks have lent me.  Anatole France

The only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little further down our own particular path than we have yet got ourselves.  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

If anyone wants to try to enclose in a small space in a single house or single room, the history of the human spirit and to make it his own, he can only do this in the form of a collection of books.  Hermann Hesse

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.  Mark Twain

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.  St. Augustine

I’m also still working through the diary, Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life (a young woman who found God and peace before she died at the age of 29 in a WW2 concentration camp).  Here is a little more that I underlined this week for you.

Worrying About Tomorrow:
We have to fight them daily, like fleas, those many small worries about the morrow, for they sap our energies.  We make mental provision for the days to come, and everything turns out differently, quite differently.  Sufficient unto the day.  The things that have to be done must be done, and for the rest we must not allow ourselves to become infested with thousands of petty fears and worries, so many motions of no confidence in God. 

 A new idea for when you can’t sleep at night:
Alone for once in the middle of the night.  God and I have been left together, and I feel all the richer and at peace for it.
On spending time with friends, children, anyone suffering – intense suffering in their life:

It still all comes down to the same thing: life is beautiful.  And I believe in God.  And I want to be there right in the thick of what people call ‘horror’ and still be able to say: life is beautiful.”  And now here I lie in some corner, dizzy and feverish and unable to do a thing.  When I woke up just now I was parched, reached for my glass of water, and grateful for that one sip,, thought to myself, “If I could only be there to give some of those parched thousands just one sip of water.” And all the time I keep telling yourself, “Don’t worry, things aren’t all that bad.”  Whenever yet another poor woman broke down at one of our registration tables, or a hungry child started crying, I would go over to them and stand beside them protectively, arms folded across my chest, force a smile for those huddled, shattered scraps of humanity, and tell myself, “Things aren’t all that bad, they really aren’t that bad.”  And all I did was just stand there, for what else could one do?  Sometimes I might sit down beside someone, put an arm round a shoulder, say very little and just look into their eyes.  Nothing was alien to me, not one single expression of human sorrow.  Everything seemed so familiar, as if I knew it all and had gone through it all before.  People said to me, “You must have nerves of steel to stand up to it.”  I don’t think I have nerves of steel, far from it, but I can certainly stand up to things.  I am not afraid to look suffering straight in the eyes.  And at the end of each day, there was always the feeling: I love people so much.  Never any bitterness about what was done to them, but always love for those who knew how to bear so much although nothing had prepared them for such burdens. 
On praying for others when we don’t know how to pray for them, when their burdens or suffering is impossible to take away:
To pray for another’s well-being is something I find childish as well; one should only pray that another should have enough strength to shoulder his burden.  If you do that, you lend him some of your own strength.
I’ll try to finish this journal this week & let you know if there is any more sections that I believe you would like to read.  Thank you so much for letting me send you what I found comforting, encouraging, challenging, motivating…. I honestly don’t get a chance to read much, don’t be intimidated by my writing to you every week – that is one of my main goals in life, to find something worth your reading, too.  And as Mark Twain wrote above, The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.  If you only have an hour total per week to read, then don’t use the hour on magazines.  Find an author that is recommended to you…trust the recommendation, have the book by your chair or bed, and begin.  If you don’t find meaning, then that isn’t your book.  The $10 is still better used than fast food from lunch.  Don’t think you wasted the money, and don’t think you need to continue reading that book.  It’s okay to stop and try again with a new author!!!  You’re not failing & you’re not wasting money!  Just continue to search.  Someone has written something out there that could change your life.
Have a great weekend!   I hope you can run over this weekend for our open house.  To see what all we’ve gotten in and to just have an excuse to come to Aurora.  How can I truly convince you how your support is the reason that we are here and growing?  Thank you.  And thank you for letting me come into your Thursday again.  Have a great day.  Notice the littlest gifts.  Life is beautiful, no matter the intensity of any pain you may have.  Notice the cocoons (are there any yet?!?!?) – for they are changing….incubating… the dark and in the quiet.  To become beautiful.  Patient with the darkness.  Knowing there is a reason.  I try to remember that analogy a lot.  Darkness and hard times are incubating times – times for me to grow and change….to be who God created me to be…..I really do look forward to meeting all of us in 10 years….more of life thrown at us….more books….more prayer…more decisions…who will we be?  Susan

Latin for this week:
luctor et emergo I struggle and emerge.

Works Cited:
Hecomovich, Julia.  Book Notes: A Reader’s Journal.  Galison.  New York.
Hillesum, Etty.  An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork.  1996.  Henry Holt and Company.  New York.

Product Overview

For the first time, Etty Hillesum’s diary and letters appear together to 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. She died at Auschwitz in 1943 at the age of twenty-nine.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (November 15, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805050876
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces

Recommended in Susan’s March 19, 2009 Newsletter