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Fine-Art „Giclée“-Print on canvas – stretched over a wooden frame with a depth of 2 cm

Illustration by Roman Kroke (2009)

Mesures: 40 cm x 30 cm

Customized title: language freely selectable – please specify the language of your choice during the order (in the preview: French)

Annotations by the artist about the concept of the illustration:

I created the illustration on the basis of the following citations from Etty’s diary:

“Very early on Wednesday morning a large group of us were crowded into the Gestapo hall, and at that moment the circumstances of all our lives were the same. All of us occupied the same space, the men behind the desk no less than those about to be questioned. What distinguished each one of us was only our inner attitudes. I noticed a young man with a sullen expression, who paced up and down looking driven and harassed (…) He kept looking for pretexts to shout at the helpless Jews: “Take your hands out of your pockets …” and so on. I thought him more pitiable than those he shouted at, and those he shouted at I thought pitiable for being afraid of him. When it was my turn to stand in front of his desk, he bawled at me, “What the hell’s so funny?” I wanted to say, “Nothing’s funny here except you,” but refrained. “You’re still smirking,” he bawled again. And I, in all innocence, “I didn’t mean to, it’s my usual expression.” And he, “Don’t give me that, get the hell out of here,” his face saying, “I’ll deal with you later.” (…) I am not easily frightened. Not because I am brave, but because I know that I am dealing with human beings and that I must try as hard as I can to understand everything that anyone ever does. And that was the real import of this morning: not that a disgruntled young Gestapo officer yelled at me, but that I felt no indignation, rather a real compassion, and would have liked to asked, “Did you have a very unhappy childhood, has your girlfriend let you down?” (…) I should have liked to start treating him there and then, for I know that pitiful young men like that are dangerous as soon as they are let loose on mankind. But all the blame must be put on the system that uses such people. What needs eradicating is the evil in man, not man himself.”

 27 February 1942

Through Etty’s regular practice of writing, her spirituality developed continuously. In the course of time, she built up an inner world, a freedom, which was, to a certain extent, untouchable and independent from the repressions of the outside world (cf. also the annotations to the illustration “Sky” regarding the sky metaphor).

One of Etty’s remarkable strengths was her intellectual engagement with her persecutors, their deeds and their motives. Only through proximity and direct encounter was she able to observe and dissect them intellectually in order to then record her reflections in her diary.

“Humiliation always involves two. The one who does the humiliating, and the one who allows himself to be humiliated. If the second is missing, that is, if the passive party is immune to humiliation, then the humiliation vanishes into thin air” (Hillesum, p. 144).

I created this illustration based on the German publication of Hillesum’s writings. The German translation implies that Etty steps forward to the Gestapo officers by herself – the same impression is conveyed in the English translation (p. 85 in Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork. New York: Henry Holt, 1996). Through the French translation I later discovered that Etty actually handled this situation with her mentor Julius Spier at her side (p. 368 in Les Écrits d’Etty Hillesum: Journaux et Lettres 1941-1943, Édition intégrale, Éditions du Seuil, novembre 2008). Etty’s behaviour remains, nevertheless, remarkable, but this passage illustrates how, through a loose translation, certain situations may appear in a different light.

I depicted the uncertainty of the Gestapo officers in the face of this unusual aplomb through the beads of sweat and the nervous fiddling with the ballpoint pen.