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The Thinking Heart: The Life and Loves of Etty Hillesum

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Thursday, August 9, 2012 at 7 PM

AUGUSTA, Maine—The Holocaust & Human Rights Center of Maine will be hosting a performance of Martin Steingesser’s “The Thinking Heart: The Life & Loves of Etty Hillesum”.

The Thinking Heart is a performance piece with two voices and one cello, based on the journal and letters of Etty Hillesum, a Dutch woman who lived in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation and died in Auschwitz in 1943. The performance is an original arrangement of her journal and letters in the form of poems written by Martin Steingesser.

Esther “Etty” Hillesum was a law student and working as a housekeeper in Amsterdam when word came of the expected summons to the detention Camp at Westerbork. To avoid the summons she applied, at the suggestion of her brother, for a position on the Jewish Council. The appointment permitted her more freedom than many, and she was permitted to make several trips to visit family. She turned down offers to go into hiding as many others did, believing that her work preparing Jews for transport to other camps was more important than her personal safety.

During this period, she wrote many entries in her diary. Prior to her final departure for Westerbork, she gave her diaries to the writer Klaas Smelick with instructions to publish them if she did not return. In the 1950s Smelick made the effort to publish the diaries and two letters he’d received from her at Westerbork, but to no avail. Smelick was unsuccessful until 1981, when his son was able to get the diaries and letters published. In 1983 they were translated to English.

No one in Etty Hillesum’s family survived the Holocaust. Her life is remembered with the Etty Hillesum Research Centre at the University of Ghent, and the Etty Hillesum Centre in Deventer, Holland.

Mr. Steingesser is the author of a book of poems, Brothers of Morning, and has been performing and teaching throughout Maine for 30 years. “His poems articulate the many seasons of the heart,” says former Maine Poet Laureate Baron Wormser. Portland, Maine’s first Poet Laureate (2007-09), Steingesser was selected to receive the 2006 Maine Alliance for Art Education’s Bill Bonyun Award “for exemplified talent and professionalism as an artist and being an inspiration to students, teachers and the community.”

The performance lasts one hour and will be followed by a question and answer session. This performance is a part of the Holocaust & Human Rights Center’s 22nd Annual Summer Seminar: Teaching the Nazi Holocaust which runs from August 6 – 10 at the center.

For more information, please contact Liz Helitzer at 621.3532 or email

There is no fee for this performance. Donations will be gratefully accepted.