Kolitz, Zvi 1913(?)-2002

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KOLITZ, Zvi 1913(?)-2002


Born 1913 (some sources say 1919), in Altyus (some sources say Vilno [now Vilnius]), Lithuania; immigrated to Italy, 1936; immigrated to Palestine (now State of Israel), 1940; immigrated to New York, c. 1950s; died of natural causes, September 29, 2002, in New York, NY; son of a rabbi; married Mathilde, c. 1952; children: three. Education: Attended Yeshiva of Slobodka, the University of Florence, and the Italian Naval Academy.


Filmmaker, producer, educator, author, and newspaper columnist. World Zionist Congress, official emissary; cowriter and coproducer of Israel's first film, Giv'a 24 Eina Ona (also known as Hill 24 Doesn't Answer), 1955; producer of Broadway plays, including The Deputy, 1964, I'm Solomon, 1968, and The Megilla of Itzik Manger, 1968-69; Yeshiva University, New York, NY, instructor. Military service: Member of the Irgun paramilitary group; served in the British Army during World War II.


Hommage (special jury mention), Cannes Film Festival, 1955, for Giv'a 24 Eina Ona (also known as Hill 24 Doesn't Answer).


'Im Kidon Ba-lev: Shishah Sipure Milhamah (short stories), Ahi'am (Jerusalem, Israel), 1942.

The Tiger beneath the Skin: Stories and Parables of the Years of Death, Creative Age Press (New York, NY), 1947.

(With Peter Frye, and producer) Giv'a 24 Eina Ona (also known as Hill 24 Doesn't Answer) (screenplay), (Israel) 1955.

Survival for What?, Philosophical Library (New York, NY), 1969.

The Teacher: An Existential Approach to the Bible, Crossroad (New York, NY), 1982, reissued, Jason Aronson (Northvale, NJ), 1995.

Confrontation: The Existential Thought of Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik, KTAV Publishing House (Hoboken, NJ), 1993.

(With others) Yossel Rakover Speaks to God: Holocaust Challenges to Religious Faith (includes "Yosl Rakover Talks to God" and "Requiem for a Jewish Boy"), KTAV Publishing House (Hoboken, NJ), 1995.

Yosl Rakover Talks to God (originally published in a Yiddish newspaper in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1946), translation by Carol Brown Janeway, with essays by Paul Badde, Emmanuel Levinas, and Leon Wieseltier, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1999.

The short story "Yosl Rakover Talks to God" has been anthologized and excerpted in numerous publications and translated into several other languages. Also author of Mussolini, published in 1936. Columnist for Algemeiner Journal for more than thirty years.


Zvi Kolitz is best known for his short story "Yosl Rakover Talks to God," a fictional memoir of a Jewish father's last few hours of life as the Nazis close in on his position in the Warsaw ghetto in the aftermath of the uprising there in 1943. Kolitz had no direct experience of the Holocaust, but the story is so powerful that it has often been mistaken for an actual diary; "Yosl Rakover Talks to God" has even been incorporated into some Jewish prayer books.

Kolitz was born in Lithuania in 1913 (some sources say 1919). His father, a rabbi, died while Kolitz was a teenager, after which his mother and her eight children immigrated to Italy, where Kolitz attended college. The family left Italy for Palestine in 1940, safely avoiding the Holocaust that was about to erupt in Europe. Kolitz's immediate family escaped the Holocaust intact, but they later learned that the entire Jewish community of their hometown in Lithuania was destroyed.

The young Kolitz was very active in the political ferment that was occurring in British-ruled Palestine in the 1940s. He joined Irgun, the underground militant Zionist organization later led by future Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. As an Irgun member, Kolitz was arrested by the British on several occasions, but when the opportunity arose to fight with the British against Germany in World War II, Kolitz took it.

After the war, Kolitz traveled internationally as an emissary for the World Zionist Congress and, unofficially, as a recruiter for Irgun. In 1946, while visiting Buenos Aires, Argentina, Kolitz was asked to write something for a local Yiddish-language newspaper's special Yom Kippur edition. His contribution was "Yosl Rakover Talks to God." The story was purportedly the last testament of Holocaust victim Yosl Rakover; the account had been hidden in a bottle before the Nazis had killed Rakover and was later discovered amid the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto. In the account Rakover sits in the middle of the burning city amidst the bodies of his fellow fighters, his wife, and six children, and directs his rage against God using the written word. It is a "fiery soliloquy, more an extended shriek than a story," Eric Linton wrote in the Newark Star-Ledger, "but it is an authentic, though fictional, expression of a faith that has sustained the Jews through the ages." To New York Times Book Review contributor Jonathan Rosen, "Yosl Rakover Talks to God" is "a quarrel as much as a prayer, an assertion of faith and simultaneous refusal to accept the traditional notion that God hides his face in response to human sin." The story is so strikingly authentic in its sentiment that Kolitz has been accused of being a liar for claiming ownership of the story, despite the fact that it can clearly be proved that he wrote it.

Later in life, Kolitz moved into theater. He cowrote and produced the first film ever made in the state of Israel, Giv'a 24 Eina Ona (also known as Hill 24 Doesn't Answer), which tells the story of Israel's 1947 war of independence. In 1964 Kolitz gained some fame in his adopted home city of New York for coproducing the controversial Broadway play Deputy, which took issue with the Vatican's failure to speak out against the Holocaust.

Kolitz was also the author of The Teacher: An Existential Approach to the Bible, a series of meditations on Jewish theology structured as a dialogue between the eponymous teacher, Ariel Halevi, and his students. Although the title claims that the book uses an existential approach, critics have noted that Kolitz's work is actually more eclectic, drawing on linguistic, Talmudic, and even Mussarist viewpoints. (The Mussar movement, native to Kolitz's own Lithuania, places great emphasis on morality and righteousness.) "This is just a marvelous collection of teachings on biblical subjects," a reviewer declared in Choice.



Booklist, July, 1995, George Cohen, review of Yossel Rakover Speaks to God: Holocaust Challenges to Religious Faith, p. 1839; October 15, 1999, Ray Olson, review of Yosl Rakover Talks to God, p. 411.

Choice, April, 1983, review of The Teacher: An Existential Approach to the Bible, pp. 1153-1154.

Library Journal, November 1, 1982, Marcia G. Fuchs, review of The Teacher, p. 2102; February 1, 2000, Graham Christian, review of Yosl Rakover Talks to God, p. 90.

New York Times Book Review, November 21, 1999, Jonathan Rosen, review of Yosl Rakover Talks to God, p. 20.

Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), February 25, 2001, Eric Linton, review of Yosl Rakover Talks to God, p. 3.

Sunday Times (London, England), November 14, 1999, Elena Lappin, review of Yosl Rakover Talks to God, p. 51.

Times (London, England), December 30, 2000, Matthew Redhead, review of Yosl Rakover Talks to God, p. 26.

Virginia Pilot, January 23, 2000, review of Yosl Rakover Talks to God, p. E3.


Internet Broadway database,http://www.ibdb.com/ (October 28, 2003), "Zvi Kolitz."

Internet movie database,http://www.imdb.com/ (October 24, 2003), "Zvi Kolitz."

Jewish Theological Seminary,http://www.jtsa.edu/ (October 24, 2003), "Biography: Zvi Kolitz."

MSN Entertainment,http://entertainment.msn.com/ (October 24, 2003), Jason Buchanan, "Zvi Kolitz."



Herald Sun (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), October 15, 2002, p. 62.

Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX), October 8, 2002, p. 19.

Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2002, p. B13.

New York Times, October 7, 2002, pp. A19, B8.*