The Lost Poems of Ka-Tzetnik 135633
Auction house offering Auschwitz survivor’s elusive pre-war book for $7,000; copies also available at several libraries
The most significant moment at the Eichmann Trial occurred when the Polish-born writer Yehiel Feiner collapsed while testifying on the stand in Jerusalem, after he was asked a simple procedural question at the beginning of his testimony—the reason why he concealed his identify behind the pseudonym Ka-Tzetnik 135633 (Ka-Tzetnik is the Yiddish term for a concentration camp inmate).
“It was not a pen name. I do not regard myself as a writer and a composer of literary material. This is a chronicle of the planet of Auschwitz. I was there for about two years. Time there was not like it is here on earth. Every fraction of a minute there passed on a different scale of time. And the inhabitants of this planet had no names, they had no parents nor did they have children. There they did not dress in the way we dress here; they were not born there and they did not give birth; they breathed according to different laws of nature; they did not live—nor did they die—according to the laws of this world. Their name was the number Ka-Tzetnik.”
Later in his testimony, Ka-Tzetnik stood and turned around, and he then collapsed on the ground.
Several years ago in Tablet, David Mikics explored the literary legacy of Yehiel Feiner, with a particular focus on his post-Holocaust works of Salamandra (1946) and House of Dolls (1953), written under his name of Ka-Tzetnik 135633, and noted, almost in passing, a small book of Yiddish poetry that he published in 1931. Before the Holocaust, Feiner was a musician, writer, and poet, who contributed articles to local Yiddish newspapers and, in 1931, published a volume of twenty-two Yiddish poems. However, as historian Tom Segev writes in The Seventh Million, “[a]fter Auschwitz, [he] made every effort to consign his early work to oblivion, going so far as to personally remove it from libraries. He also discarded his original name. Auschwitz, having robbed him of his family, also robbed him of his identity, leaving only the prisoner.”