Etty & Leonie

till April 16

This presentation focusses on the friendship shared by Etty Hillesum (1914-1943) and Leonie Snatager (1918-2013). When these young Jewish women are faced with difficult choices during the Second World War, each makes a different decision.

The diaries of Etty Hillesum (1914-1943) were first published in 1981. Hillesum was murdered in Auschwitz in 1943. These diaries, now in the collection of Amsterdam’s Jewish Museum, became famous around the world. The Dutch author Judith Koelemeijer recently published the biography Etty Hillesum - Het verhaal van haar leven (Etty Hillesum: The Story of Her Life). Koelemeijer’s research uncovered previously unknown material about the friendship between Etty and Leonie Snatager-Penney.

‘And then I must, for the over-enthusiastic Leonie, still find the right tone to respond to her letter, which I find very moving in certain ways, but otherwise unbearably exaggerated and, let’s just say, inartistic and chaotic.’


During the Second World War, both young women were in therapy with the psychologist and hand-reading expert Julius Spier. He encouraged both of them to keep a diary. Etty writes in her diary about Leonie and their sometimes difficult friendship. Leonie, in turn, writes about Etty who is having an affair with Spier. Since Etty also works as his secretary, she reads the writings of his other clients including Leonie’s diary. A complex love triangle develops between Spier, Leonie and Etty.


Etty chooses not to go into hiding because she wants to share in the fate of her people. She goes to help in the Westerbork transit camp as a social worker and is finally deported to Auschwitz, where she is murdered in 1943. Leonie initially considers going to Westerbork too, but she decides to go into hiding instead. She survives the war and emigrates to the United States. After her death in 2013, her son finds a complete Etty library under his mother’s bed, with published editions of Etty’s diaries in all different languages. In a hallway cupboard, there is yet another extensive archive including her own war diaries and letters.

Leonie’s diaries are donated to the Jewish Museum by her family.

This this exhibition is no longer on show
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