Pseudonym for Yehiel Denur. Nationality: Israeli (originally Polish: immigrated to Israel after World War II). Born: Yehiel Finer, 1917; took name Denur after moving to Israel. Education: Studied the Hebrew classics at a traditional Yeshiva in Lublin. Family: Married Nina Asherman. Career: Auschwitz survivor; writer; founder, with his wife, Israeli Movement for Arab-Jewish Cooperation (nonpolitical, grass roots organization), 1965. Agent: Curtis Brown Ltd., 10 Astor Place, New York, New York 10003, U.S.A. Died: 17 July 2001.
Salamandra. 1947; as Sunrise over Hell, 1977.
Beit ha-bubot. 1953; as House of Dolls, 1955.
Ha-shaon [The Clock]. 1960; as Star Eternal, 1971.
Karu lo Piepel [They Called Him Piepel]. 1961; as Piepel, 1961; as Atrocity, 1963; as Moni: A Novel of Auschwitz, 1987.
Ka-hol me-effer [The Phoenix Land]. 1966; as Phoenix over the Galilee, 1969; as House of Love, 1971.
Ha-nidon le-hayim. 1969.
Ahavah bi-lehavot. 1976.
Di shevu'eh [The Vow]. 1982.
Hibute ahavah. 1984.
Tsofen: Edma': Masa ha-gar'in shel Oshvits. 1987; as Shivitti: A Vision, 1989.*
The Holocaust Experience As Mirrored in the Literary Testimony of Ka-tzetnik (dissertation) by Lea Leibowitz, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1988; "Red Fire upon Black Fire: Hebrew in the Holocaust Novels of K. Tsetnik" by Howard Needler, in Writing and the Holocaust, edited by Berel Lang, 1988; "Memory in the Work of Yehiel Dinur (Ka-Tzetnik 135633)" by William D. Brierley, in Hebrew Literature in the Wake of the Holocaust, edited by Leon I. Yudkin, 1993; A Phoenix from the Ashes: A Biographical Study of the Life of the Israeli Writer and Holocaust Survivor Yehiel De-Nur by Gila Ackerman, 1994; "Kitsch and Sadism in Ka-Tzetnik's Other Planet: Israeli Youth Imagine the Holocaust" by Omer Bartov, in Jewish Social Studies, 3(2), Winter 1997, pp. 42-76.* * *
The powerful literary forays of Yehiel Finer (later Yehiel Dinur), who spent two years in the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, can be accurately described as profound fictionalized chronicles of hell, as stories related by a man who was able to transmit the shattering truth without once lessening its true dimensions. Publishing under the pen name Ka-Tzetnik (or K. Zetnik) 135633, Dinur took the moniker from the German abbreviation KZ (Konzentrationslager ) for concentration camp inmate, stating, "I must carry this name as long as the world will not awaken after the crucifying of the nation to erase this evil, as humanity has risen after the crucifixion of one man." And on another occasion he observed, "It does not matter that I, Yehiel Dinur, pass away. The most significant fact is that K. Zetnik will stay alive." To be sure, the pseudonym further reinforced the anonymity and seclusion the author chose to embrace for many years until his death in 2001, while at the same time ironically pointing up the obliteration of identity and individuality the Nazis sought to achieve. Besides the pseudonym, the fact that the author adopted the name Dinur, which in Aramaic means "of fire," after settling in Palestine, clearly attests to the motif of transformation through the inferno that constituted a central pillar in his oeuvre.
In 1961 Dinur was summoned, along with hundreds of other survivors, by state prosecutor Gideon Hausner to give evidence at the trial of Adolf Eichmann. It was not surprising that Dinur's submergence within the reality of the Holocaust was so intense, so unforgettable, that, upon seeing the face of the architect of the Final Solution in the glass booth, he fainted, overwhelmed by the blackening, nightmarish images of what he had lived through. Before he collapsed, this is how Dinur described Auschwitz on the witness stand:
The time there is not a concept as it is here in our planet. Every fraction of a second passed there was at a different rate of time. And the inhabitants of that planet had no names. They had no parents, and they had no children. They were not clothed as we are clothed here. They were not born there and they did not conceive there. They breathed and lived according to different laws of nature. They did not live according to the laws of this world of ours, and they did not die …
Time and again, Dinur's confronting novels, which were some of the first to tackle the descent into "planet Auschwitz," as he called it, present and bear witness to the years he and his fellow captives endured, singularly focused on the gleaming monstrosity of the German guards. Gripped mercilessly by his concentrationary experience, Dinur said that his inability to unearth the right registers and words to document the past resulted in exhaustion and breakdown. For the most part his semiautobiographical novels are graphically disturbing confessional pieces that allow the stunned reader an unmediated and acutely faithful glimpse into the eye of the storm, into the irrational nature of evil that shaped the author's life forever. Infused with a narratorial and stylistic obsession for outlining the violence, perversion, and bestiality of the Nazi criminals writ large, fueled by an abrasive reverence for an exact transcription of the abominable, the painful episodes are informed by the despair attendant on daily life in the camps, the raging insanity of evil, and the fevered attempt to maintain, among the fire of the ovens, one's dimming humanity and compassion.
The strong emphasis on authenticity and naturalism is evinced and underlined by Dinur's own commentary on his role: "I do not regard myself as a writer of literature. My writings are the chronicles of the planet Auschwitz." In essence, the thematic quilt of his sextet of novels titled Salamander: A Chronicle of a Jewish Family in the Twentieth Century shimmers with a rasping objectivity that primarily dwells on the complete brutality and physical torture perpetrated upon the prisoners, the sexual exploitation and the total dehumanization that was carved into the charred soul of the Jews. Accordingly, in Sunrise over Hell (1947), House of Dolls (1953), Star Eternal (1960), and Atrocity (1961), among others, the absurd and insane universe of the Shoah is spotlighted through the figure of Harry Preleshnik, who, as the author's alter ego, witnesses and reports on the ugliness and misery embodied in the surreal and, at times, supernatural reality of Auschwitz. Concomitantly, the prose is often deliriously frenzied, slipping into over-the-top stylized kitsch and sadism, as Omer Bartov has said.
Unable to exorcize the demons of the past, the former inmate, numbed and tormented by post-traumatic syndrome, was so haunted and besieged by the burden of memory that he considered all his prewar output and life as nonexistent. As a matter of fact, he retrieved several of his early works from the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and the Hebrew University Library and subsequently tore them to shreds. It has been noted that, while in the nascent days of Israeli statehood, the author's books were treated as pornography by teenage readers who were titillated by the remarkably explicit portrayals of sexual abuse, his corpus is now studied in Israeli high schools and by Israeli Defense Force soldiers. It is of particular salience that the inclusion of his writing in the educational syllabus flowed from the writer's particular wish that his royalties be directed to funding the teaching of the Holocaust, reflecting his deep concern that memory of the event be preserved. Incredulously, despite the hobbling, un-yielding evil he saw, Dinur's vision of life was not entirely that of a broken man. Rather, in later novels such as Phoenix over the Galilee (1966), for instance, he conveyed the message of universal peace and encouraged common dialogue and understanding between the warring Jews and Arabs.