The heavy heart of the shack

Publish date 22-07-2023

by Chiara Vitali

"A future peace will be truly such only if it is first found by everyone within himself, if every man has freed himself from hatred against his neighbour, of any race or people, if he has overcome this hatred and transformed it into something different, perhaps in the long run in love.' Etty Hillesum wrote these words in her diary on June 20, 1942, a few weeks before arriving at the Westerbork Nazi transit camp along with hundreds of other men and women. Her diary is an extremely precious document: she, a 27-year-old Jew, recounts the rise to power of the Nazis starting from small changes in her everyday life.
Her soul unfolds on paper, page after page, and gives shape to faces, places, dramas and hopes.

The more the external conditions become difficult and humanly unbearable, the more Etty's inner life grows and solidifies. “In the end, we have only one moral duty – she wrote, for example – Claim large areas of peace within ourselves, more and more peace, and reflect them towards others. The more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our turbulent world." Hillesum will die in Auschwitz in 1943, together with her family.

Why bring her story into a column on the common good? A few days ago, a friend wrote to tell me that she had just finished her diary. «I feel Etty like a sister, I often think of her, she keeps talking to me», she explained to me. She is not alone: over the years I have heard more people say that Hillesum was a travel companion during an illness or that she managed to give a new breath to everyday life.

Her words continue to affect reality: for this reason it is useful to periodically bring them back to the surface, even eighty years later.
«I want to be a thinking heart – said Etty – to flourish and bear fruit in whatever land it is planted, could this not be the idea?».

Clare Vitali
NP April 2023

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