One Lesson from Etty Hillesum’s Diaries


It never ceases to amaze me how I continue to learn from dead people who are not blood related.


While reading Etty Hillesum’s diaries which were written from 1941 to 1943, I found myself dog earring pages where I found quotes applicable to my life. One of the things that amazes me about Etty is that she found peace, joy, and the beauty of life despite the oppression around her. She was a Dutch Jew living in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation, but she never let suffering take hold of her life.

Just like Etty, I have learned how to make much with little. Like her, I feel gratitude for the simplest things: a cup of coffee, a book or a muffin. Even though this is the only book the world will have written by her, (how much I wish she could have lived longer and written more diaries or books), I have found numerous lessons in this collection of her eight diaries.

In one entry she writes, “The rottenness of others is in us, too…I really see no other solution than to turn inward and to root out all the rottenness there. I no longer believe that we can change anything in the world until we have first changed ourselves. And that seems to me the only lesson to be learned from this war. That we must look into ourselves and nowhere else.”

Here, I found myself stopping and reflecting on my life. How many times have I heard this truth in other words before? When has it sunk in. When did I finally decide to apply this truth to my life?

Ghandi is known for saying,  “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” and how about Mother Teresa’s “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.”

In her last few years of life, Etty found her self looking inward. She wrote about her personal growth, and she applied those lessons to her life with admirable dedication.

Call it the right time and the right place in which I found this book. Etty writes of Rainer Maira Rilke, “Is that not further testimony that life is finely balanced? Evidence that, in peaceful times and under favorable circumstances, sensitive artists may search for the purest and most fitting expression of their deepest insights so that, during more turbulent and debilitating times, others can turn to them for support and a ready response to their bewildered questions?”

I look into my life today and find in it a renewed beauty and purpose.


During the past few weeks, I’ve turned for support in Etty’s diaries because I found my self and my troubles reflected in her. And it is with great gratitude and honor that because of her writings, I look into my life today and find in it a renewed beauty and purpose.

Now I wonder, in what books or writings have you found support and answers to your questions?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s