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Yehiel De-Nur: Ka-tzetnik 135633 (1909-2001)

A descendant of the famous Hasidic master Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Yehiel De-Nur became famous as a Holocaust novelist under the pen name Ka-tzetnik 135633. Indeed, his novel Salamandrah, 1946 (Sunrise over Hell, 1977) was the first Holocaust novel to be written and published. The story of how he acquired the pen name of Ka-tzetnik 135633 and the story of how he came to write the novel are two tales woven into the single story of his life as he knew it before and during the Holocaust…

David Patterson – in „The Encyclopedia of Holocaust literature“ (Ed. David Patterson, Alan L. Berger, Sarita Cargas)

Yehiel De-Nur was born in Poland in 1909. After losing his entire family to the Nazis "” mother, father, wife, sister, and brother "” he spent two years in Auschwitz. Several days before the evacuation of the camp, De-Nur found himself among a group of men whom the Nazis were taking outside the camp to be shot. Suddenly he bolted and ran for the forest. Thus he escaped from Auschwitz and eventually made his way to Italy, where he ended up in a hospital just as the war was coming to a close. When the doctors told him he was about to die, he asked for pencil and paper, so that he could repay a debt to the dead. Two weeks later he had completed the novel.

Having accomplished his task he entrusted the manuscript to a Jewish soldier. The soldier looked at the manuscript and said, „There is no author’s name here. Who shall I say wrote it?“
„Who wrote it?“ De-Nur answered. „They wrote it. Put their name on it: Ka-tzetnik.“
Thus the great author of Holocaust literature was anonymously born, taking the name Ka-tzetnik. which means „camp inmate.“ By having had the dead speak through him, Ka-tzetnik made what was described as a miraculous recovery; soon he was on his wav to Israel.
… … …

Ka-tzetnik published very little during the 1970s, but began to struggle more than ever with the nightmares that had haunted him ever since Auschwitz.. For thirty years he did not sleep at night but would nap as best he could during the day. In 1976 his devoted wife finally persuaded him to seek the help of Professor Jan C. Bastiaans in the Department of Psychiatry at the State University in Leiden, Holland. Using methods of LSD therapy. Professor Bastiaans specialized in treating Holocaust survivors suffering from nightmares.
Ka-tzetnik went to Bastiaans and subjected himself to four LSD therapy sessions which, he says, provided him with the key to Auschwitz, a key that finally freed him from his nightmares. He was determined to write about the „key.“ but ten years passed before he could come to the first line, out of which the rest of the book flowed. The result was Tsofen: E.D.M.A., 1987 (Shivitti; A Vision, 1989).

E.D.M.A.. Ka-tzetnik explains, is an unvoiced combination of letters that would come to his lips each time he was near death while in Auschwitz; the letters can be found at the beginning of his books, and they appear at the beginning of his LSD therapy in Tsofen. If the letters have any meaning beyond that, Ka-tzetnik will not say what it is. It is likely, however, that they stand for Eloha de Meir aneni (God of Meir – answer me). An ancient invocation of the talmudic sage Rabbi Meir, Jews in the mystical tradition use this code to summon help in times of need.

The English title Shivitti is taken from the inscription that appears in the artwork that adorns many synagogues and that is frequently part of the visions recorded in the book. The inscription is Shivitti adoshem le-negedi tamid, or „I have set the Lord before me always“ (Psalms 16:8).

Tsofen, in fact, has many biblical verses interwoven with the visions of the anti-world with which Ka-tzetnik collided during his LSD therapy sessions. The visions consist of remembrances and reenactments of his time in Auschwitz, where each moment „revolved around the cogwheels of a different time-sphere.“ The „key“ is made of those visions.

One piece of the key arises, for example, in his memory of the time he was being loaded into a truck to be taken to the gas chambers. Gazing at the SS man whose job was to send him to his death. Ka-tsetnik cries out to God, saying. „You know that at this moment the two of us, dispatcher and dispatched, are equal sons of man, both created by you, in your image“ (p. 11). Hence, he realizes, each of them could be standing in the place of the other. The most powerful vision, however "” the vision that ended his therapy, despite Professor Bastiaans recommendation that he undergo one more session "” is the fourth and last vision. While bits and pieces of his other visions and memories appear in his novels, this one unearths something that does not appear in any of his previously written pages. It is a vision of his mother: „My mother, naked. Going to be gassed. I behold my mother’s skull and in my mother’s skull I see me. And I chase after me inside my mother’s skull. And my mother is naked. Going to be gassed“ (p. 101).
His mother holds up her murdered children to God. But who is this God? It is Nucleus, the Destroyer of worlds. What strikes Ka-tzetnik here is that precisely while death was being „manufactured“ in the Nazi death factories, the atomic bomb was being built in Los Alamos.

On February 14. 1992. Eliyah De-Nur, the one whom Ka-tzetnik called „the light of my world,“ passed away. It would seem, then, that the title of his collection of writings. Kaddish (English and Hebrew, 1998), may have been selected with her, as well as the 6.000.000, in mind (the Kaddish is the Prayer for the Dead). His mother shows up here too, but this time in a poetic portrait with his sister. The volume contains a variety of poetry, heartrending renditions of the fate of the children, and harrowing descriptions of the physical and spiritual violence of the concentrationary universe "” written at times realistically, at times surrealistically, and always with a rhythm of ritual, akin to prayer.

While Ka-tzetnik 135633 is one of the most insightful, artistic, and profound voices to emerge from Planet Auschwitz, he is also one of the most invisible. He never sought to publish anything he wrote "” his wife attended to that business. He never made a public appearance and never promoted a word he wrote, mainly because the words are not his. „They wrote it.“ he insists. While he is invariably included in scholarly works on Holocaust literature in general, there are no book-length studies of this remarkable body of work which demands a book-length treatment.

The Encyclopedia of Holocaust literature

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