Ka-Tsetnik, most remembered for fainting dramatically on the witness stand during Adolf Eichmann’s trial in 1961, is the pen name of Yehiel De-Nur, born Yehiel Feiner. A Yiddish poet prior to the Holocaust, he took up a new identity after it with the intention of erasing his former self and turning himself into a live memorial to the Holocaust. Ka-Tsetnik means “concentration camper” in Yiddish (deriving from “ka tzet”, the pronunciation of KZ, the abbreviation for Konzentrationslager).
His early book of poems, published in 1931, of which only a few copies were printed, was acclaimed in 1950s Israel. But Ka-Tsetnik, as part of his conceptual mission to erase his pre-war life, insisted that no trace of it should remain, demanding that even the copies kept by the American Library of Congress and the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem be burned and destroyed.
The cut pieces of the book presented here were sent by Ka-Tsetnik to Shlomo Goldberg, manager of the National Library of Israel’s storerooms (whom he mistook for the library’s director). In his poignant accompanying letter he writes, “I hereby attach the remains of the book as a sign and testament. Please burn them, just as all that is dear to me and my entire world were burned in the Auschwitz crematorium. This letter is intentionally inscribed by hand rather than written by my cold typewriter.”
Ka-Tsetnik’s act of cutting the book resonates with myths of birth and creation associated with destruction and cutting (Chronos, who castrates his father, Uranus, god of the sky, in Greek mythology; or the Babylonian god Marduk, who cuts up the body of the goddess Tiamat, from which the sky and the earth are created). It was in reference to this myth that Freud coined the psychoanalytic term caesura (in Latin, a cutting), indicating the seam line between life in the womb and life after birth. By his act of cutting and burning, Ka-Tsetnik expressed his agonized desire to change his destiny and be reborn.