Katzenelson, Yitzhak

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KATZENELSON, Yitzhak

Nationality: Polish. Born: 1886. Family: Married Hannah (murdered, Treblinka, 1942); three sons (deceased). Career: Founder, Hebrew school in Lodz. Member, partisan organization Dror, Warsaw Ghetto, World War II; prisoner, Nazi camp, Vittel, France, 1943, then Auschwitz. Died: Murdered, Auschwitz, May 1944.

Publications

Poetry

Shirim le-yalde Yisra'el. 1907.

Dos vayse leben: Ertsehlungen un bilder. 1908.

Bi-gevulot Lita, po'emah. 1908.

Ha-To'eh: Mahazeh be-ma'arakhah ahat. 1910.

Sihot. 1910.

Dimdumim: Shirim. 1910.

Anu hayyim u-metim: dramah lirit bi-sheloshah perakim. 1912.

Fatima: Dramatishe poema in dray akten. 1919.

Hizkiyah ba'al ha-halomot sipur. 1920.

Mahmadim: Kovets sipurim shirim agadot u-mahazot. 1923.

Dos lid funem oysgehargetn Yidishn folk. 1944; as The Song of the Murdered Jewish People, edited by Shlomo Derech, 1980.

Yesh li shir, l'ildi Yisrael. 1954.

Ba-halom uve-hakits: Sipurim li-yeladim. 1955.

Piesn o zamordowanym zydowskim narodzie. 1982.

Plays

Bahurim: komedye, eyn akt. 1900.

Dekadent: komedye eyn akt. 1908.

Karikaturen: Drame in dray akten. 1909.

Mekhirat Yosef: Deramah bi-sheloshah aktim. 1910.

Ha-Ma'gal: Komedyah be-shalosh ma'arakhot. 1911.

Ahashverosh melekh tipesh: Komedyah be-haruzim bema'arakhah ahat. 1920.

Be-vet ha-mishneh: Mahazeh. 1919.

Ha-Hashmona'im: Mahazeh. 1920.

Ha-Skvit ha-yoter tsa'ir: Mahazeh. 1920.

Ha-Hashmonayim mahazeh. 1920.

Letsane Purim: Mahazeh. 1920.

Mekhirat Yosef: Mahazeh. 1920.

Halomot: Mahazeh. 1920.

Ha-Navi: hizayon be-shalosh ma'arakhot. 1922.

Unzere noente bakante: Lirishe drame in dray teyl. 1922.

Kohah shel manginah mahazeh. 1925.

'Al nahares Bovel: Biblishe tragedye in fir aktn. 1967.

Mahazot Tanakhiyim. 1983.

Short Stories

Taltalim. 1919.

Hizkiyah ba'al ha-halomot: Sipur. 1920.

Zarah shomer Shabat: Agadah. 1920.

Novel

Nitsanim. 1900.

Diary

Pinkas Vitel. 1964; as Vittel Diary, 1972.

Other

Yalde ha-perahim: agadah li-khvod Shevu'ot (for children). N.d.

Shirim le-yalde Yisra'el (for children). 1912.

Gezang un shpiel: Di ershte shpiel-un lieder-zamlung far Yudishe kinder (for children). 1920.

Gan-yeladim: Kovets shalem shel shirim frebeliyim ve-shirei'am le-mishak u-lesha'ashu'im (for children). 1920.

Le-ma'an ha-gedolim, with Yitshak Berkman (Hebrew grammar). 1920.

Tal boker. Sefer 1: Mikra'ah 'Ivrit ahare ha-alef-bet, with Yitshak Berkman (Hebrew grammar). 1920.

Shimush ha-lashon: Hu helek shelishi le-sifre ha-dikduk, with Yitshak Berkman (Hebrew grammar). 1921.

Ha-Dikduk: 'Arukh be-shitah kalah (Hebrew grammar). 1921.

Mahatalot: Kovets-hatulim metsuyar, 'arukh be-safah kalah ve-nohah li-yeladim (for children). 1921.

Mayn Idish bukh (Yiddish grammar). 1923.

Tsafririm sefer limud u-mikra 'im mahlakah le-'avodot bikhetav, with Yitshak Berkman (Hebrew grammar). 1925.

Sefer limud ve-mikra 'im mahlekah le-'avodot bi-khetav, with Yitshak Berkman (Hebrew grammar). 1927.

Ketavim aharonim: 703-704. 1947.

* * *

Yitzhak Katzenelson is considered one of the primary literary witnesses of the Holocaust, a poet in the company of Paul Celan, Nelly Sachs, Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel , and—before them—Chaim Nachman Bialik, the poet of the 1903 Kishinev pogrom. In contrast to these fellow poet-witnesses, however, Katzenelson does not write from the perspective of the survivor looking back. Rather, he writes from within the flaming epicenter of the Hurban itself. His most famous work, the epic poem The Song of the Murdered Jewish People (Dos lid fun oysgehargetn Yidishn folk ), as well as his more personal record of the times and the events to which he has been witness, his Vittel Diary, were written between May 1943 and January 1944 in Vittel, France, where Katzenelson, under the assumed identity of a Honduran national, was interned in the Nazi camp for enemy aliens. In late April 1944, however, Katzenelson, along with most of his fellow Jewish inmates from Vittel, including his eldest son, Zvi, was sent to Auschwitz, via Drancy. He died in Auschwitz in early May, shortly after his arrival. His wife, Hannah, and their two younger sons, Ben-Zion and Benjamin, had perished in Treblinka two years earlier.

Katzenelson wrote in Hebrew and in Yiddish. To his Eastern European contemporaries before the war, he was known as a prolific writer of popular poems, stories, children's songs, and plays. Of particular significance is the importance of his work in the establishment of Hebrew as a vernacular language within the literary culture of Eastern European Jewry. Born into a family of rabbis and Hebrew scholars, and growing up in a household in which Hebrew was introduced as the family language, Katzenelson devoted much of his work as a writer and educator to the goal of establishing Hebrew as the foundational language of Jewish secular—not just religious—culture. He founded and directed a progressive, coeducational Hebrew school in Lodz; his wife was the school librarian. What they needed were Hebrew texts, and many of Katzenelson's early works were produced in direct response to that need. His first collection of Hebrew poems was published in Warsaw in 1910, and the famous Habima theater company performed his play Anu chajim umetim ("We Live and We Die") as their first play in Hebrew.

After the outbreak of the war and the German occupation of Lodz, Katzenelson and his family fled to Warsaw. In the Warsaw Ghetto, where he became an active member of the partisan organization Dror, he continued his practice of writing for use and from need, producing (often pseudonymously) occasional pieces that were performed in the ghetto and disseminated through the underground press. He also taught Hebrew. But the Holocaust that was to change his world forever also changed his language. For, after having devoted most of his career as a writer and educator to the development of a vernacular Hebrew, in response to the destruction of the world of Eastern European Jewry, Katzenelson shifted his literary language to the traditional vernacular of Eastern Europe's Jews: Yiddish. Moreover, as if to emphasize the local roots of this language, Katzenelson wrote The Song of the Murdered Jewish People, his last great work, not only in Yiddish but in a markedly un-Hebraic Yiddish. His final work thus pays homage not to the language of the prophets but to the language of the common people of a world in the process of being destroyed. Hebrew (the language in which Katzenelson still wrote privately, including his Vittel Diary ) receded to the space of a personal culture, the trace of a dream for the future that the present had curtailed.

—Angelika Bammer

See the essays on The Song of the Murdered Jewish People and Vittel Diary.

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Katzenelson, Yitzhak

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