Original Research

Etty Hillesum: Esse quam videri – Reformed Christian perspectives on a spiritual journey

Raymond Potgieter
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 54, No 1 | a2470 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v54i1.2470 | © 2020 Raymond Potgieter | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 March 2019 | Published: 27 May 2020

About the author(s)

Raymond Potgieter, Department of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


Etty Hillesum, known as the adult Anne Frank, diarised her emotional and intellectual journey from 09 March 1941 to 15 September 1943, a final postcard thrown from the train en route to Auschwitz from Westerbork transit camp. Her diarising initially aided her therapeutically to analyse her personal feelings rationally. But the changing circumstances in the Netherlands, due to the Nazi occupation in addition to her own turmoil, turned her diarising into a highly personal inner conversation. She initially addressed herself. As her conversation deepened, it took on the semblance of a two-way conversation. Hillesum eventually concluded that she was conversing with God. Her life became more meaningful as she adopted a New Testament servant mentality and attitude of forgiveness towards her Nazi enemies. It was this attitude that compelled her to serve the younger women of Westerbork transit camp, but also to tell them of God’s power in forgiveness and hope for the future. This study will attempt to show Hillesum’s place within Reformed theological thinking. This is a necessary exercise, as many people do not only drift away from the church, but do not turn to it or to Christian ministers for pastoral assistance in matters of the spirit.


Etty Hillesum; Westerbork; diary; Auschwitz; transit camp; Reformed theology.


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