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Opposing Evil

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A journal entry from Etty Hillesum (1914–1943), a young Jewish woman who was killed at Auschwitz. In her diary, she recreates a conversation with her friend, writer Klaas Smelik, about the hatred and bullying she saw within her own community:

Klaas, all I really wanted to say is this: we have so much work to do on ourselves that we shouldn’t even be thinking of hating our so-called enemies. We are hurtful enough to one another as it is. And I don’t really know what I mean when I say that there are bullies and bad characters among our own people, for no one is really “bad” deep down. I should have liked to reach out to that [bully] with all his fears, I should have liked to trace the source of his panic, to drive him ever deeper into himself, that is the only thing we can do, Klaas, in times like these.

And you, Klaas, give a tired and despondent wave and say, “But what you propose to do takes such a long time, and we don’t really have all that much time, do we?” And I reply, “What you want is something people have been trying to get for the last two thousand years, and for many more thousand years before that, in fact, ever since [humankind] has existed on earth.” “And what do you think the result has been, if I may ask?” you say.

And I repeat with the same old passion, although I am gradually beginning to think that I am being tiresome, “It is the only thing we can do, Klaas, I see no alternative, each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others. And remember that every atom of hate we add to this world makes it still more inhospitable.”

And you, Klaas, dogged old class fighter that you have always been, dismayed and astonished at the same time, say, “But that—that is nothing but Christianity!”

And I, amused by your confusion, retort quite coolly, “Yes, Christianity, and why ever not?” 

Etty Hillesum

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