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The Story of Esther (and her diaries)

Esther, called Etty, was born into a family of Jewish intellectuals, open to broad cultural interests: she had a preference for literature and Russian language, learned from her mother, who bore the scars of a pogrom from which she had managed to escape; she loved the classics which her father, a teacher of Latin and Greek, was soaked in, while her two brothers discussed music and medicine with her. The family environment is not serene and does not infuse security, the education that is impressed on her is saturated with modernity and free of all schemes. In adolescence, the loving adventures begin which destroy her due to her excessive and never fulfilled psychological investment. Graduating in Amsterdam (much to everyone's surprise she chose law), she realizes that at just 27 years of age she is now giving way: her mental and psychological senses are not balanced. The acquaintance with the eclectic Spier - singer, publisher, banking and chiromancer who had studied under Jung - will slowly lead to self-mastery, releasing in her a true and disinterested love. It is to Spier that we owe the Diaries: he understood that the vein of the writer in Etty needed to be awakened, since only by writing could she take the steps necessary to heal herself: from a "tangled ball" to a donated thread and gentle aid to the persecuted Jews. It was a tremendous undertaking. For us it is a document that hands on not so much Nazi atrocities (Etty writes "I do not feel the need to do this" referring to a possible documentation to leave to posterity), as a light that pierces the darkness of one of the darkest historical periods of European history. Light that transfigured her herself and goes on transfiguring all those who come into contact with the eight hundred pages of the diary, ten notebooks rescued, thanks to the devotion of her friends, from the fury of the war and the Holocaust. The definitive departure of Etty to the Westerbork transit camp, which 107,000 Dutch Jews passed through (5,200 of them survived), the first step for that great mass grave which is called Auschwitz, was not due to an arrest but to a spontaneous surrender so that she could share the fate of her people. On the last evening of her freedom, her friend Maria Tuinzing was entrusted with the precious load so that it might be passed on to another friend, the writer Klaas Smelik.  Etty was well aware of the fact that there was no going back, so she entrusted herself, enclosed within the notebooks, to Smelik so that he might ensure their publication. Because of the war, he received them only in 1946 (or 1947), along with a collection of letters, and he looked for a publisher. The time was not ripe? The value of those notebooks was not understood? Strangely however the letters written from Westerbork had already been printed in 1943, the same year in which Etty was murdered at Auschwitz, the 30th of November. The gestation of what was to become the Diary was laborious: in 1979 the son of Smelik handed nine notebooks to the publisher J. G. Gaarland, who was able to assess their beauty. This led to their publication in 1986. I wonder if the seventh book will emerge from some archive. For now it is gone.




St. Peter’s Square

Oct. 22, 2019