The Thinking Heart 

a cantata in remembrance of Etty Hillesum

 Music by Robert Perretti

Libretto by the composer based on 

the journal and letters of Etty Hillesum

Play a song from the cantata with its story

The Premiere was performed on

Tuesday, November 5, 2019 at

the Wine Family Sanctuary

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah

130 W 30th Street, New York, NY


Watch for reviews of the

Premiere Event on this website 


for Announcements of

Future Performances




The Thinking Heart Cantata tells the story of Etty Hillesum, the Dutch, Jewish woman whose courage during the Holocaust make her a comfort to all victims of oppression. The cantata’s story is based on the journal Etty kept until her deportation to Auschwitz.

May 1940. Nazi Germany occupies the Netherlands. Dutch Jews feel the mounting weight of fascist persecution. New regulations limit their freedoms, threaten their well-being. Uncertain and afraid, Dutch Jews awake from their denial. They realize the real intent of their conquerors.

The Nazi pogrom overruns Amsterdam and the world of Esther Hillesum. Etty is twenty-six, well-educated, worldly, and Jewish. She speaks three languages, studies law and psychology. She reads St. Matthew and St. Augustine. She has a lover.

Etty’s journal is the record of her life caught up in the Holocaust. Rather than escape, she stays with her people to console them. She faces Nazi torment with inner strength and compassion. She chooses not to hate. Rising above despair, she refuses to let suffering rob life of its beauty.

Etty embraces the suffering of her people as their ‘Thinking Heart’. With an arm around a shoulder, a kind word, searching for medicine or helping a mother give birth in a fetid barracks, she gently comforts them. She goes to the rail car singing—undefeated—knowing that life was full and beautiful because she had lived it.



The Thinking Heart Cantata was written as a reminder: what happened to Etty Hillesum can happen again, to anyone, any time, in any place.  


With your support, performances of The Thinking Heart let more people know. And when people know, they will remember. 


The Thinking Heart Cantata is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of The Thinking Heart Cantata must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.



An Interrupted Life, 

the journal and letters of Etty Hillesum


Introduction by J.G. Gaarlandt

Published in the United States by 

 Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

Etty Hillesum’s courage and compassion during the Holocaust is revealed through her journal, the story of a woman whose life resolves into beautiful wholeness. Etty’s journal was edited by Mr. Jan Gaarlandt, Balans Publishing, and member of the Etty Hillesum Foundation, the Netherlands.  



Robert Perrettis music has been played at venues as diverse as Western Illinois University, St. Peters Church, NY, and the New York Botanical Garden. He served as composer in residence for City Chamber Music Collective and is now developing Opera for Dessert, chamber operas by new composers. 

Just pages into reading Etty Hillesums journal, Robert knew that her story should be told in music. The Thinking Heart Cantata was written to honor her as a woman whose life inspires, and to remember all victims of events that should never be repeated. 

Robert lives in New York. Visit him on Facebook at Robert Perretti, composer.



The Thinking Heart Cantata honors Etty Hillesum. Etty embraces life in its wholeness. Suffering does not wash away its beauty. Unselfish service to others gives it meaning.


The cantata tells her story to both inspire and inform us.  It also carries an important message: what happened to Etty can happen again. To reach as many as possible with this message, The Thinking Heart is written to be practical in scale and length for various venues and ranges of artists.


Education is a key part of the mission. We welcome participation with the media, museums and other organizations in expanding awareness of Etty’s courage and compassion.


When more people know,

they will remember.  



We look forward to

your comments about the cantata,

interest in independent performances,

museum relations and press inquiries.


To be in touch with us 


When more people know,

they will remember.