Page 215 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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SZEINTUCH /YITZHAK KATZENELSON
207
messenger o f the nations. The Germans fulfilled the task that was
assigned to them by the nations o f the Western World. Thus, his
accusations against the Germans are secondary to those levelled
against the Christian nations that appointed them as their agents
o f destruction.
Katzenelson explains the meaning o f the Holocaust from an
historical point o f view, by means o f a double analogy — between
Rome and Germany, on the one hand, and between Jesus and the
Jewish people, on the other, in which the killing o f Jesus and the
murder o f the Jewish people are one o f the main points o f
comparison, though not the only one. He writes: “After the Ro­
mans and the nations thatjoined with them sank in a sea o f blood,
they grasped at a straw which floated on the surface — at our
brother, one o f those who was killed by them, the Jew o f
Nazareth [. . .] Now the nations are sunk in their abominations,
and in place o f individuals, the entire Jewish people was killed
[. . .] The Jews o f all Europe were flagrantly killed by the German
people, the vilest o f nations, by their agent who befits them . . .”9
In the
Vittel Diary,
Yitzhak Katzenelson’s most comprehensive
and profound work, which is complemented by his
The Song o f the
MurderedJewish People,
an effort was made to define the essence
o f the dramatic confrontation between the Jews and Judaism
with the world in the twentieth century. Fired by extreme emo­
tional and intellectual tension, Katzenelson assumed the respon­
sibility o f expressing in words the depth o f the human tragedy,
on the one hand, and the greatness o f the Jewish people and its
contribution to Western civilization, on the other. Since
prophecy represented for Katzenelson the apex o f Jewish
culture, he sometimes adopts in his writing its style and role.
Apparently, he does not feel especially privileged when com­
pared to the generation o f biblical chastisers and even when com­
pared to that o f his forebears. Still, in the special circumstances
decreed him by fate, he considers it is his duty to extol the
spirituality and humaneness o f his fellow-Jews who exemplify
the glory o f Judaism. Moreover, in positing the value o f the conti­
nuity o f Jewish literary creativity even after the annihilation o f
most o f the Jews o f Eastern Europe, Katzenelson chose to do so
within the framework o f the age-old Hebrew literary tradition.
9
Vittel Diary,
p. 170.