last entries excerpted from Etty Hillesum’s letters

the strength with which people whose lives are almost completely behind them hang on to the wretched bits of carcass that are left.

– Etty Hillesum, Letters From Westerbork, p. 278

One should be able to write fairy stories here.

I have to stop right in the middle of the fairy tales –

– Ibid., p. 305

I hope for him (and for so many, many others, too) that things won’t go on for much longer –

– Ibid., p. 324

You know, if you don’t have the inner strength while you’re here to understand that all outer appearances are a passing show, as nothing beside the great splendour (I can’t thing of a better word right now) inside us – then things can look very black here indeed. Completely wretched, in fact, as they must look to those pathetic people who have lost their last towel … poor mothers sitting beside the cots of their wailing young in blank and brute despair.

– Ibid., pp. 326-327

A raw wind blows through the barracks, several windowpanes are broken, yet the air is stale and foul-smelling. Like an agile monkey, Mechanicus has just clambered up onto his third-tier bunk and triumphantly reappears with a tin of pea soup. A small space has become free on the stove in the washhouse. It is half past twelve; I am invited to stay on in this Eastern back street on the Drenthe heath to eat pea soup. I have a good life, indeed!

– Ibid., p. 322

Mechanicus is chewing at his fountain pen. … “It’s too much,” he says suddenly. “I know I can write, but here I am face to face with an abyss – or a mountain. It’s too much.”

– Ibid., p. 338

“If you don’t eat your pudding up straightaway, the Mummy won’t be with you on the transport!”

– Ibid., p. 337

we all know that we are yielding up our sick and defenseless brothers and sisters to hunger, heat, cold, exposure, and destruction, and yet we dress them and escort them to the bare cattle cars – and if they can’t walk, we carry them on stretchers. What is going on, what mysteries are these, in what sort of fatal mechanism have we become enmeshed? The answer cannot simply be that we are all cowards. We’re not that bad. We stand before a much deeper question …

– Ibid., p. 342

“I’ve got to go, and I won’t be able to get my washing dry by tomorrow.”

– Ibid., p. 343

we are allowed to carry the woman to the hospital instead of the freight train – which, this night, seems a rare act of humanity …

-Ibid., p. 345

“I would like, oh, I really would like, to be able to swim away in my tears.”

– Ibid., p. 345

The outside world probably thinks of us as a grey, uniform, suffering mass of Jews, and knows nothing of the gulfs and abysses and subtle differences that exist between us. They could never hope to understand.

– Ibid., p. 353

“Each moment of your life that your courage fails is a lost moment.”

– Ibid., 359

We must keep one another in touch with everything that happens in the various outposts of this world, each one contributing his own little piece of stone to the great mosaic that will take shape once the war is over.

– Ibid., p. 340

every transport is different and has its own atmosphere.

– Ibid., p. 247

if we have nothing to offer a desolate postwar world but our bodies saved at any cost, if we fail to draw new meaning from the deep wells of our distress and despair, then it will not be enough. New thoughts will have to radiate outward from the camps themselves, new insights, spreading lucidity, will have to cross the barbed wire enclosing us and join with the insights that people outside will have to earn as bloodily, in circumstances that are slowly becoming almost as difficult. And perhaps, on the common basis of an hones search for some way to understand these dark events, wrecked lives may yet take a tentative step forward.

history has indeed laid a heavy destiny on our shoulders, and … we must try and attain the grandeur we need to bear it. You can even say that we should consider ourselves front-line soldiers, although we are sent to peculiar fronts. It may seem as if we are doomed to complete passivity, but no one can prevent us from mobilising our inner forces. No one.

– Ibid., pp. 250-1