Page 210 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

Basic HTML Version

our existence; ever since I began to perceive — I have been in
flight [. . .] It is now some decades that I flee, that I shut out the
evil spirits that hover about . .
In 1939 Katzenelson fled from Lodz to Warsaw, where during
the period o f conquest and later o f ghetto life he found ample
scope for his widespread cultural activity to which he devoted
himself even more assiduously than prior to the War. On August
14, 1942, his wife and two o f his sons were sent to Treblinka. In
May 1943 he was transferred to the Vittel concentration camp in
occupied France, where he continued to write for about a year.
From there he was deported together with his son to Auschwitz,
where he was murdered.5
During his last period o f creativity, in the Warsaw ghetto and
the Vittel camp, Katzenelson no longer fled. He undertook to be­
not only
the threnodist o f the murdered Jewish people, but
above all — the seeker after sparks o f Jewish resistance against
Nazi persecution and the evil designs to destroy not only the Jew­
ish people but also Judaism itself. He was also a mentor to many
in the ghetto. He threw himself feverishly into literary activity —
in the underground school o f Dror and Hechalutz, in the orphan
homes, in the “Tekumah” Hebrew society and in youth halutz
work — to an extent before unequalled. He also devoted himself
to producing literary documents in which he highlighted the spe­
cific character o f the Jewish soul throughout the generations, on
the one hand, and subjected both his people and the Christian
world to sharp criticism, on the other. This task he carried out
with unique literary power, especially in one o f his last works, the
Vittel Diary,
a work that is at once edifying and shocking.
As one driven, he wrote his works in occupied Warsaw and in
the ghetto — chiefly in Yiddish. He printed some o f them in the
underground press, read others in public, and some he pre­
sented on the stage through the Yiddish dramatic troupe that he
directed in the ghetto. When he learned that the real intent o f the
Germans was physically to annihilate all the Jews he sought to ex­
press his concept o f Jewish heroism in two works, “The Poem
5 On the last period o f his life and creativity in Vittel see especially, Nathan Eck
The Wanderers in the Paths o f Death
(Hebrew), Jerusalem, 1960.