An Interrupted Life

by Etty Hillesum

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Etty Hillesum

Etty Hillesum’s An Interrupted Life was published decades after Hillesum’s death at Auschwitz concentration camp. Hillesum wrote the material that comprises An Interrupted Life between the years 1941 and 1943. During these years, Hillesum was employed at camp Westerbork as a member of the Jewish Council, at first escaping the Jewish persecution at the hands of the Nazis who had occupied the Netherlands during the course of her diaries. Because the book is made up of diary entries, the characters are real people encountered in her life.

Julius Spier

The first sections of the book recount Hillesum’s experience with Julius Spier (referred to as "S"), with whom Etty had sexual encounters that she claims not to regret. She describes him as a "fifty-four year-old in whom the struggle between the spirit and the flesh is still in full cry." Hillesum recalls that Spier attracted the attention of many Aryan women and was a wise, sage presence in her life as he became her intellectual and spiritual mentor. At the time of their acquaintance, Spier, a German Jew, was a psychoanalyst and a pupil of the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung.

Professor Bonger

A casualty of Jewish persecution who is described in some detail is Professor Bonger, whom Hillesum remembers seeing at the Skating Club just before the Dutch capitulation. She describes him as a heavy, cumbersome man. In her remembered encounter, she asks his advice on whether she should escape; he replies that she should not, as "the young have to stay put." Bonger avers (rather prophetically) that democracy will win, but only after having cost several generations.

Max Kormann

A former shoe salesman, Max Kormann became a close friend of Etty’s, and she addresses him affectionately in many of her entries. Kormann gave Jewish history lessons to prisoners in concentration camps. Etty meets Kormann at Westerbork after he was captured by the Germans.

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