A Last Message from Etty Hillesum   From the collection of the  Jewish Historical Museum , Amsterdam

A Last Message from Etty Hillesum

From the collection of the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam

“We left the camp singing.”

Dear Wise One,

Those are last written words

of a real-life Sophia 

Etty Hillesum

as she was driven out of all security

into Auschwitz and her death.


Etty Hillesum’s journals

show us the soul of a woman

full of tender fierceness, 


to love and not grow bitter 

to  see beauty 

 to be in solidarity with those suffering

and to protect the dwelling place

of God within herself…


A God

 whom Etty envisioned

as Feminine:

“I know about the mounting human suffering.”

she wrote in her journal.

“I know it all.

And yet, at unguarded moments,

I suddenly lie against the naked breast of life,

and her arms around me are so gentle

and so protective…”


Etty is an astonishing real-life


A 27 year old Jewish woman

who lived during the Holocaust

and died at Auschwitz

at age 29.

She came to know that what matters in life

is not how many days we live

or how many comforts and things we have. 

It is how we choose to live our lives;

how we develop the depth and maturity 

to be able to hold together 

the goodness of life

 the kindness and love and peace

within one’s self

despite the incredible wrongness

and suffering that exists.


This is Feminine Courage.

The ability to not turn away from suffering

The ability to endure 

The ability to offer solace through one’s presence

The ability to stand as witness

The ability to offer one’s heart through kindness 


Etty was not advocating 

 passive acceptance of evil.

Through her life she stood strong 

against destruction of 

her soul, and the soul of others, 

by creating an inner life

by seeking meaning and beauty 

by ’bearing witness where witness needs to be born’

and by offering comfort and peace

 through her presence.


Etty evolved into this remarkable 

strength and fullness

by surrounding her self with 

strong-minded, loyal friends,

by reading the writings of spiritual giants

like Rilke, Dostoyevsky, Augustine

 by conversational prayer throughout her day

by journaling and listening to her own thoughts .


She went to her job every day. 

She savored the beauty of nature

the rose, jasmine, blue sky;

and treasured the hours she spent

both with herself and with her friends.


She lived her life deeply and intensely.

She continually examined her heart. 

She loved her friends and her beloved.

She loved herself.

She loved humankind.

She loved God.

And her great desire was

to be able to face everything squarely

and be ‘a balm for all wounds.’


There is so much this beautiful 

Feminine Spirit

has to teach us.

She found life 

‘beautiful and meaningful

from minute to minute.’

I encourage you to find 

your own heroines

your own rhythm of life for body and spirit

your own ideas of truth and meaning.

Love your self…

and love your questions… 

as Rilke suggests. 


Give yourself time to grow into your wisdom.

Etty would encourage you to

“Take your own importance seriously…

Something in (you) is growing…

All (you) have to do is accept it,

to take it upon (yourself)

to bear it forward,

and to let it flourish.”


And know that, even if you don’t feel it,

you are indeed embraced in the arms of 

the Divine…and held securely.



PS:    Hillesum, Etty. Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork. NewYork: Henry Holt and Company, 1996.

 Rilke, Rainer Marie. Letters to a Young Poet. New York: Norton & Company, 1993.

Sandra LoganComment