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!
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.