The broad strokes of Etty Hillesum’s life before World War II were not particularly remarkable. Her father was a Dutch school master, and her mother was one of many Russian Jews who fled the pogroms of their homeland to make a new life Western Europe.
Hillesum herself wasn’t a particularly good student, although she was interested in languages. Her brother was a very skilled pianist, but she showed no particular aptitude for music. She worked as a housekeeper. She had a romantic relationship with her boss.