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March 24, 2023 3:10 pm

WWII Series About Diaries of Dutch Author Murdered in Auschwitz to Be Led by Famed Israeli Director


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Portrait of Etty Hillesum circa 1939. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Israeli director, producer and screenwriter Hagai Levi will write and direct a series called The Girl Who Learned How to Kneel that is loosely based on the diary entries of Dutch author Etty Hillesum during World War II before she was deported and murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp, Screen Daily reported on Friday.

The series will be set in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam and production is expected to begin in Amsterdam in the winter of 2024. The series is a co-production between the French companies Arte France and Les Films du Poisson, and Topkapi Films from the Netherlands.

Hillesum was born Jan. 15, 1914, and was the oldest of four children in a middle-class family. She was in her mid-20s when she wrote diaries and letters in occupied Amsterdam and the Westerbork transit camp during the years 1941 to 1943, the year she died in Auschwitz at the age of 29, three months after arriving at the concentration camp, according to Yad Vashem. Considered the adult counterpart to fellow Dutch diarist and Auschwitz victim Anne Frank, Hillesum’s writings were also later published, liked Frank’s. Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork was printed in 1996.

The Girl Who Learned How to Kneel will be filmed in Dutch and German, despite Levi’s experience with English-language shows, because he said “it was very important for me to be truthful to all the details and all the nuances of the original story,” Screen Daily reported.

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Some of Levi’s most notable projects include Scenes From A Marriage starring Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac, the Israeli television series Be’Tipul that was adapted to HBO’s In Treatment, The Affair with Sarah Treem and the Israeli series Our Boys. He served as producer, director, screenwriter, co-creator, executive producer and showrunner on the various projects, and Our Boys won 14 Israeli Academy awards.

“Since I read it 10 years ago, it was my dream to make a film or a series about her,” Levi said about The Girl Who Learned How to Kneel, adding that the project kept getting delayed because “every time I made another American TV series, it was postponed again and again.” He called The Girl Who Learned How to Kneel a “very modern, contemporary story even though it takes place in the beginning of the 40s in the Netherlands” and one that is filled with “inspiration, compassion and strength in difficult times.”

Les Films du Poisson’s Yael Fogiel described the series as a “story of spirituality, desire and love” about “a young and modern woman who finds a way to believe in life again as the situation gets worse and worse around her and she loses her freedom as a Jewish woman.”

Correction: The article previously stated that the German occupation of the Netherlands occurred in the late 1930s and early 1940s and has since been edited.

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