K. Zetnik

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K. ZETNIK (pseudonym of Jehiel Dinur , originally Feiner ; 1917?–2001), author. Much about the life of Jehiel Dinur is shrouded in mystery. He seems to have wanted it that way. An Israeli scholar claims that Dinur was born eight years earlier than his announced date of birth. Born into a ḥasidic family in Sosnowiec, Poland, he was active in the Orthodox youth movement of the Agudat Israel in Poland. He first published his poems in Yiddish in the Agudat Israel newspapers. At the age of 22, just before the outbreak of World War ii, he published a book of Yiddish poems entitled Tsvai un tsvantsik (1931; "Twenty-Two Years – Twenty Two Poems"). Suffering all the torments and tortures of the Holocaust, he was one of the few survivors of Zagłembia, Poland. He was an inmate of Auschwitz, arriving with the last transports from Sosnowiew in August 1943 and incarcerated there for a year and a half. In 1945 he immigrated to Ereẓ Israel and settled in Tel Aviv.

A writer whose themes relate to the Holocaust, K. Zetnik held that he had survived for the sole purpose of telling future generations the horrors of the Holocaust and to be the spokesman for its millions of victims. When testifying at the Eichmann trial in 1961, he collapsed after saying "If today I can stand before your honors, the judges, and relate the events of the 'planet' called Auschwitz, then it is for the sake of 'its inhabitants' whom I now see and they are looking at me…." When asked in court why he called himself "K. Zetnik" (a term referring to a concentration camp inmate), he replied: "This is not a literary name. I must continue with it as long as the nation has not aroused itself following the crucifixion of the nation to erase this evil." His work belongs to the first generation of Holocaust survivor writing, stressing the cruelty of the perpetrators and the anguish of their Jewish victims. Like several other survivors, he referred to Auschwitz as "planet Auschwitz," echoing the sense that the world of the Lager was not our world. He described the evil of the perpetrator without regard to the sensibilities of his readers and touched on issues such as forced sexual enslavement that others would have preferred be forgotten. His style was terse, almost clinical, leaving it to the readers to impose their harsh judgment. His works, dealing with different aspects of the horrors of the Holocaust, written in Yiddish and Hebrew, include: Salamandra (1946), Bet ha-Bubbot (1953; House of Dolls, 1956) about Nazi degradation of Jewish women; Ha-Sha'on asher me'al ha-Rosh (1960), stories about the Holocaust; Kare'u Lo Pipel (1961; Piepel, 1961), a story about the terror of Auschwitz, especially relating to children; Kokhav ha-Efer (Star of Ashes, in Hebrew, English, and Yiddish, 1967); and Ḥol me-Efer (1966; Phoenix over the Galilee, 1969), a novel containing autobiographical material, describing a Holocaust refugee's painful integration into life in Israel. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages. In keeping with the mystery of his life, he instructed his children not to make public his death.

[Getzel Kressel /

Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]