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By Etty Hillesum - Life and Letters Paperback – 15 Sep 1996

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Paperback, 15 Sep 1996

Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Company Inc (15 Sept. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0002D6CRA
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,431,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a profound and beautiful diary of life in the hardest of times; genocide.
Etty is an intelligent and hopeful young woman who despite the evil surrounding her and coming closer she keeps seeing the beauty and good in mankind.
She even willingly goes into the camps (she and her family are excluded for a until the end as her brother is a pianist and the nazis loved their music) to give her people hope. She would have become a great writer if she hadn't died in the camps.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the story of a remarkable Jewess who ended up in the Gas Chamber. Her dealing with the Nazi invasion of her native Holland was unique. Don't want to give more away. Required reading for anyone who cares about the human spirit
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 54 reviews
158 of 160 people found the following review helpful
Translation is execrable 26 Aug. 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Having read the reviews, I am amazed that Etty's spiritual growth managed to be felt by the reviewers despite the terrible translation. This translator not only leaves out the poetry of her way of expressing herself -- the continuing metaphors she employs to make her points -- but the translator completely misses the point and mistranslates almost on every page. For example, on page 211 of this edition, the translator has Etty telling us that Klaus committed suicide and that she must "make sure his name is taken off the card index." No, no, no. Klaus did not commit suicide and in any case, even if he had, Etty would not have worried bureaucratically about removing his name from a registry. What Etty really said was that a man committed suicide in the camp hospital and Klaus's reaction was to worry about taking his name off the registry. Because Klaus COULD NOT EMPATHIZE. Klaus hated the Nazis but he himself had the heart of a Nazi. This is what fascinated Etty -- that this man who could see the evil in others was oblivious to his own. This point is obscured by the erroneous translation.
A translator who does not understand the message is unable to translate the message. Etty's message is subtle. Her message is about spiritual growth. If the translator is not at the same level of understanding, the translation will be distorted by numerous tiny slightly wrong word choices and word order. If you liked the book in this translation, well, one can only hope that someone will translate it correctly some day. Or if you can read French, try the version "Une vie boulverse" by Philippe Noble, Editions du Seuil.
70 of 70 people found the following review helpful
One of the Most Inspiring Books I have Ever Read! 27 April 2000
By Avocadess - Published on
Format: Paperback
I was first drawn to this book by the black and white photo of Etty on the cover -- belying a woman who was thoughtful, mysterious, bohemian. Then when I saw that this was truly a book that was inspirational -- and written by someone who was herself a victim of the Holocaust -- I was indeed intrigued and purchased the book in anxious anticipation.
However, nothing prepared me for just how truly enlightening this book was to be! Etty lived in the same time period and only blocks from where Anne Frank was hiding, and had the advantage of living as a Jewish housekeeper in a non-Jewish household. Indeed she had many advantages that could have, has she pursued it, possibly spared her ultimate end at Auschwitz. However, Etty had some strong feelings, which she mentions more than a couple of times. One is that she did not see why she should be spared what so many thousands of others were having to bear. However she also dearly hoped to live past the end of this terrible era -- and she felt always certain that this dark era would end -- especially so that she would be able to tell the world something so important, and have the world listen. She would tell the world that "life is beautiful, in spite of everything." Though her life was cut off in Auschwitz in November of 1943, the book perhaps can fulfill that dear hope.
No Pollyanna or ostrich, Etty experienced her ups and downs fully. Yet she had a deep understanding of real fulfillment in and gratitude for life. Most importantly, she looked for her answers within, and while the world with out was often atrocious, clearly what she found within was a source of constant beauty and sustenance.
The only explanation I can find as to why I had not heard of her before -- and why her name is not as well known as that of Anne Frank -- was her very liberal attitudes which were no doubt especially unpopular after the war, including a very liberal attitude toward sexuality and an, albeit constructive, criticism of fellow Jews who responded to the Holocaust only with hatred and bitterness.
Etty Hillesum's life, and her reflections in this book containing her diaries and letters from a Nazi work camp, are rare and sparkling jewels indeed. I recommend this book -- especially those who are late teens through eldest adult!
Bravo, Etty.
Note: I recommend that one not skip even one page of the initial forward and preface. It is a wonderful and immensely helpful introduction into the book.
57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
This Is Difficult to Get Into, But Well Worth Staying With 21 Mar. 2001
By Peter Fennessy - Published on
Format: Paperback
I found this book very difficult to get into. Like many spiritual journals this book seemed at first overly self-centered and indulgent; one page read boringly very much like the page that went before. Her sleeping around and her bizarre therapy with Spier put one off. And Etty herself felt very deeply, vehemently, passionately; reading her can be like drinking water from a fire hose. One might feel like giving up the battle, but it will be well worth your while to push on. More and more one begins to see astonishing signs of spiritual growth and maturity and then of extraordinary achievement and grace. Emotionalism passes into selfless and self-sacrificing love. She moves speedily from her first ability to say the word God to constant prayer and even to a mystical union, all the more significant for being so unrelated to any conventional religion. In the midst of ever increasing certitude about coming annihilation, and eventually amid the horrors of the transit camp of Westerbork, this young woman not only manages to preserve her sanity and keep herself from hating her persecutors, but somehow even comes to rejoice in the beauty and meaning of life. It is truly a wonder how anyone could manage to grow to such transcendent greatness of spirit in so short a time. How fortunate for us that it happened to a woman who felt so deeply, knew herself so clearly, and wrote so aptly, and whose writings from the midst of the Holocaust has survived to our time.
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
Profound, Moving, Uplifting 25 Feb. 2000
By K. Adams - Published on
Format: Paperback
I am compelled to add my comments here because I disagree completely with those of K. Unger, the first of the reviews here. Etty's diary is not a "book" that can be reviewed the way one reviews a novel. This is an historical document--a journal and letters--and Etty's intention when writing was not to weave a narrative for some future reader, but to explore her own character--her faults, desires, dreams, and place in the world. Unger calls her "self-involved and lazy;" I would say that she is profoundly self-aware, self-critical, and attempting to create an intellectual life for herself. This intellectual life requires her to sit at her desk--reading, thinking, writing. The value of the work is that it allows us to watch as her mature self unfolds, as she struggles with both personal issues and the increasingly threatening political situation. If you come to this book prepared to allow Etty to lead you along the path she follows, a path which leads ultimately to acceptance of her fate, you will come away awed and moved by the power of the human heart and mind.
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
A brave and luminous soul revealed in Holocaust shadow 20 July 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
"I can't take in how beautiful this jasmine is. But there is no need to. It is enough to believe in miracles in the twentieth century. And I do, even though the lice will be eating me up in Poland before long."
Intellectually gifted and spiritually impelled, Etty Hillesum began her amazing diary shortly after Hitler's invasion of Holland. She continued for three years, until she volunteered to accompany the first group of Amsterdam Jews to the Westerbork camp, from which all were deported to Auschwitz where she died at age 29.
Many rich layers are revealed in the diaries and letters: snippets of Etty's daily life among friends, family, and academics in Amsterdam under the encroaching German threat; Etty's struggle with her fierce moods and strong sensuality; her love affair with a much older and most unusual therapist; and the struggle of a budding artist to find expression in words.
Above all, the diary chronicles Etty's spiritual awakening in the face ! of death. Etty's addresses God freely and spontaneously with an unconventional and wholly authentic religiosity. She calls herself "the girl who learned to kneel."
While others around her despaired or made frantic preparations to escape, Etty considered herself a witness to history and desired to fully live and record not only "the experiences they have prepared for us all" but her conviction of the ultimate worthiness of life "despite everything we human beings do to one another."
At the same time I was reading Etty's diaries, I was also reading some existentialist writers: Kafka, Sartre, Camus. In contrast to their mewlings of meaninglessness, a slip of a girl with bleeding stomach ulcers, who gave up her beloved desk and books, family, friends, and lover to sleep on straw in a work camp wrote, "I often walk with a spring in my step along the barbed wire and it comes back to me, I can't help it, a great fundamental feeling that life is ! beautiful and yes, meaningful."
Etty was no cloudy-h! eaded mystic in denial of reality. She knew full well the horrors of her time, the fate of the Jews, the visions of "poisonous green smoke." She looked them fully in the eye and prepared herself to accept "death, even the most horrible death" as part of the experience of being alive.
Kafka wrote, "We ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us... A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us." An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork is that kind of book.
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