Esther “Etty” Hillesum (15 January 1914 – 30 November 1943) was a Jewish woman whose letters and diaries, kept between 1941 and 1943, describe life in Amsterdam during the German occupation [Wikipedia]. She perished in Auschwitz.
One moment it is Hitler, the next it is Ivan the Terrible; one moment it is the Inquisition and the next war, pestilence, earthquake or famine. Ultimately what matters is to bear the pain, to cope with it, and to keep a small corner of one’s soul unsullied, come what may.
Yes, we carry everything within us, God and Heaven and Hell and Earth and Life and Death and all of history. The externals are simply so many props; everything we need is within us. And we have to take everything that comes: the bad with the good which does not mean we cannot devote our life to curing the bad.
To sum up, this is what I really want to say: Nazi barbarism evokes the same kind of barbarism in ourselves … We have to reject that barbarism within us, we must not fan the hatred within us, because if we do, the world will not be able to pull itself one inch further out of the mire.
Dear God, these are anxious times. Tonight … I lay in the dark with burning eyes as scene after scene of human suffering passed before me…. I shall try to help You, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance…. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last.
… today’s real experience was the magnolia in the corner of Tide’s room, whose mysterious beauty almost scared me stiff. I stood open-mouthed for nearly five minutes as if nailed to the floor … I couldn’t believe there is so much beauty, couldn’t take it all in. I could hardly tear myself away from the flowers, stroked the leaves very gently with the tips of my fingers and almost asked Tide, “Please may I pay a visit to your magnolias every day?”
From Patrick Woodhouse, Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed (London, New York: Continuum, 2009).