After the publication of Hillesum's diaries, An Interrupted Life (in 1981, almost 40 years after her death in 1943 at the age of 29), a number of letters written to friends during her last year came to light. This life-affirming correspondence concerns her internment at Westerbork, a transit camp that the Hillesum family and more than 100,000 other Dutch Jews passed through en route to Auschwitz. Hillesum keenly details the diversity of the inmates, the camp's squalor, the hellish transports and the incomprehensibility of their situation: ``The sky is full of birds, the purple lupins stand up so regally and peacefully, two little old women have sat down for a chat, the sun is shining on my face, and right before our eyes, mass murder.'' Readers won't fail to marvel at her fortitude, her refusal to bow to hatred or despair and her capacity for selfless humaneness: ``Against every new outrage and every fresh horror, we shall put up one more piece of love and goodness,'' and, written on a postcard she threw from the train that took her to Auschwitz, ``We left the camp singing.'' Photos not seen by PW. (November 24)
The publication of Hillesum's diary, An Interrupted Life ( LJ 12/15/83), restored to the world a luminous personality whose life was extinguished at 29 in the Holocaust. Now with the publication of her Letters , Hillesum's last desperate year is chronicled. As a member of the Dutch Jewish Council, she spent her time in Westerbork, a transit camp, trying to make its bewildered occupants comfortable and maintain an optimistic outlook and faith in God despite the fact that mysterious transports left each week for somewhere in Polandfrom whenceno one ever returned. In her last letter, thrown from a train, she says, ``We left the camp singing.'' These letters, which make human the tragedy of the Holocaust, belong in libraries everywhere. Andrea Caron Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, Kan.