Our martyrs

Her descriptions of Westerbork inmates helping to load families, old people, and infants onto the doomed transport trains are ruthlessly candid and unbearably wrenching. She knew all too well that her survival would mean someone else’s death, and the whole calculation seemed to her bitterly wrong. The meaning of staying alive had become utterly perverted, and perhaps the only way for her to save meaning was by accepting death.

—Eva Hoffman, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43, (London: Persephone Books Ltd, 1999), Preface.

This transformation of victims into martyrs, denial of resistance, appropriation of meaning, transmogrification of theft into gift and murder into sacrifice is evident in an overwhelming number of memorial sites. It fascinates me so!

I picked up An Interrupted Life at The American Book Center yesterday. Wieviorka’s
Resistance in Western Europe looks really good but the hardback edition at ABC was € 45 and horribly printed, as if the plates were from a xerox of a xerox, and the Netherlands is included as just one of a number of countries, whereas this month I’d like to focus here. A very nice clerk handed me the Hillesum volume – I never would have found it on my own. She said it was a classic here, though she personally hadn’t read it. An alternative was The Hiding Place, which I said I was familiar with from the television show, and then she said „there’s also fiction“. Observing my face fall as we headed towards those well-stocked shelves she agreed that I wasn’t interested in fiction. Why is it so many are?

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