Page 212 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Tselem” (In the Reign o f the Cross) written in 1923, Hillel and
Aaron Zeitlin, H. Leivick and others who foresaw the disaster o f
European Jewry and expressed their fears in their writings o f the
twenties and thirties.
Katzenelson also grasped the historical implications o f the Hol­
ocaust for future Jewish life when in the Warsaw ghetto on the
first night o f Passover 1942, some four months before the depor­
tation o f Warsaw Jewry to Treblinka — he penned his speech to
the Hebrew teachers. In this speech he prepared himself and
them for the end and said, among other things: “[. . .] We are pre­
pared to die . . . even if today, tonight, at this moment, the knock
o f the murderer will be heard at our door. It sometimes happens
that they come together, the murderer and Elijah the Prophet —
. . . this is how we are prepared! And by our death — we assure
life for the multitudes o f our people wherever they may be. Know
this, and may this be our consolation: We fructify them more
by
our death
for the sanctification o f the Divine Name, for the sancti­
fication o f the nation, than by our life . . .”
HERO IC RESPONSE
These words represen t the essence o f the sp irit o f
Katzenelson’s creativity under Nazi rule. He strove to make his
listeners and readers aware o f the “invisible strands” which con­
nected the loyal members o f the people who were prepared to die
with those who remained alive and he sought to find a means o f
expression that would perpetuate the memory o f the victims.
This was what governed his activity during his last four and a half
years under Nazi rule down to the last weeks o f his life.8
Katzenelson’s literary creativity during a period o f 45 years is
far too diversified and complex to be able to do it justice in a
single article. His writings under Nazi rule are also deserving o f
detailed analysis and study. On the occasion o f the forthcoming
100th anniversary o f his birth (1986), we shall comment on one
o f his last and most important works — the
Vittel Diary.
While
Katzenelson is best known for his
The Song o f the Murdered People,
that work cannot be fully understood without the
Vittel Diary
8 See the recent publication o f the first edition o f Katzenelson’s Warsaw Yiddish
writings: Yechiel Szeintach,
Yitzhak Katzenelson
Yidishe Geto-Ksovim; Varsha
1940-1943,
Tel-Aviv, 1984.