AN INTERRUPTED LIFE: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1940-1943 by Etty Hillesum

AN INTERRUPTED LIFE: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1940-1943

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Unlike Anne Frank's quietly universal Diary of a Young Girl, these Amsterdam meditations by a Dutch/Jewish woman in her late 20s--who would die in Auschwitz--are the product of a highly idiosyncratic sensibility. Working as a Russian-language tutor, living in a quasi-boarding-house, sexually liberated Etty devotes the greatest portion of her diaries to her intense relationship with ""S.""--identified in the Dutch publisher's introduction as Julius Spier, a middle-aged, charismatic therapist/palm-reader who trained under Jung. Etty begins as a patient: ""Suddenly I was living differently, more freely, more flowingly, the costive feeling vanished. . . . And now I live and breathe through my 'soul,' if I may use that discredited word."" But soon, though sleeping with lover Hans, Etty is obsessed by S.--reporting each shift in their strange, erotic, mystical union. There are ruminations on male/female dynamics, dependence, selfhood, parental ties. Etty immerses herself in Rilke, pondering ""The relationship of literature to life."" And, with soulful S. as her model, Etty reacts to the increasingly grim Dutch[Jewish situation with a kind of holistic acceptance. ""Why is there a war?. . . Because I and my neighbour and everyone else do not have enough love."" Despite an occasional feeling of terror, Etty enjoys life, refuses to go into hiding, repeatedly disavows hatred for her enemies, converses at length with God, is aware of the dire prospects, but isn't fearful: ""I don't feel in anybody's clutches; I feel sale in God's arms. . . ."" And even after S. dies, with deportation looming, Etty's equanimity remains essentially intact: ""I want to be sent to every one of the camps that he scattered all over Europe. . . . I don't want to be what they call 'safe'. . . I want to fraternise with all my so-called enemies. . . ."" Some readers will be inspired, perhaps, by this spiritual rising-above the Holocaust horror. Others, however, will be much more skeptical--especially since Etty's musings so often suggest a neurotic post-adolescent phase. In any case: a strange, one-of-a-kind document--by turns tedious, bewildering, disturbing.

Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 1983
Publisher: Pantheon