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028~ Standing on both sides

Updated: Mar 20

The Wall 2008

I read 'The Nazi and the Barber' for the first time back in 1994, at the age of 21 just finishing my army service, I got my hands on this controversial book, which suggested the interesting idea that two opposite ways of life can, in some twisted circumstances switch in the same person. The story roughly is about two childhood friends, one who becomes a Nazi murdering his Jewish friend and stealing his identity.

Some twenty years later - when I started crystallising this project, I mentioned the book so vividly, as if I had just finished reading it. My brother in law was so impressed with the amount of details I remembered, that he suggested it is strong proof this topic has been broiling in my mind, and for sure it is something I should develop further.

Book Cover - Hebrew edition

One day it happened to me!

Back then in 1994 while reading the book, flooded by the plot during a vacation in Sinai. I was just laying there in the shade (Zulah), which is the center of each camp, the place to see others, to read, to chat, to have coffee, play backgammon- socialize the good old-fashioned way. One day, I noticed a bright-skinned, blond, blue-eyed couple, freshly burnt from the sun, seemingly Europeans. The girl noticed the cover of my book and whispered something to her boyfriend, looking back at me shyly. By this point, I was pretty sure they were Germans, and I decided to pull a prank on them.

Looking at the swastika on the book cover, she asked me what the book was about. I told her a bit about it. Then, as if out of the book I am reading, I asked her - "Are you from Germany?" and she confirmed that indeed they are. I then said something I'd later regret...I said, "There is this one sentence I know in German but I don't know what it means" - "What does 'Ich bin ein jüden Schwein' mean?" I found it funny to witness her response, as if she deserved it or something, don't know. For a split moment I felt victorious, which later transitioned to emptiness. I remember her looking down, I remember her stuttering, caught in my trap of dis-ease, like prey with its back to the wall (...does this make me the hunter?..).

I was just looking for a laugh... I must have heard it somewhere and passed it on. I wasn't thinking about her, looking back - I wasn't thinking at all! It was all about making me feel better - maybe the sarcasm transferred to me from the book? I was totally absorbed in that plot. "Oh - that is a very bad thing to say, I'm sorry," she replied. "Why? what is it?" I carried on. "I can't say. It's a terrible thing to say," she responded, and they left, took their stuff, and moved on, leaving me with that dumb smug look on my face. I wonder if I wore a brown shirt that day - it would have fit perfectly. I never want to do that again.

I reread the book recently to notice that I did remember its idea pretty well, I only noticed this time it more vulgar than I remembered back then in my 20's...

Other than that - the ideas were once again very impressing, the twists in the plots were fun.

I fear we are witnessing a twisting plot nowadays in Israel.

These are terrible and interesting times in Israel. Justice is being pounded in a blitz by a temporary group of people who, in many other scenarios, were unlikely to take control over the parliament. It is one of those rare occasions in which paths of a few movements and people cross and get together. Now, not only are the most basic structural rules being bashed and abolished by extremists, but also it is the manner of conduct - Spite, Vengeance, and Hatred.

Historical iconic images from my memory seem to come to life in color, blending with what I knew, and the inevitable comparisons in my mind which is trying to make sense of it all, to settle it, to put it in proportion. Seems like history is in the making right now. The unimaginable swing of racism and perpetration is now at our door?

Then and now - Collage From FaceBook

I never gave this idea a thought until I read this book, even though I first learned about this idea in Yehiel De-Nur's LSD post-trauma experiential treatment.

This post about Yehiel-De-Nur which was published last week by The national library seemed too much of a meaningful coincidence for me to ignore so I dully translated it and am reposting for I think it is part of what my project is talking about.

Three times Ka-Tsetnik 135633 smuggled Yehiel Feiner's books from the archives of the National Library and destroyed them. These were the last remaining copies of Feiner's only book, which Ka-Tsetnik insisted on burning and destroying in order to lose Feiner's memory.

Three people were involved in this crime - three who are one.

Ka-Tsetnik was not punished for these actions, because once, in another life, before the Holocaust, he was Yehiel Feiner whom after the war became known by the pen name: "Ka-Tsetnik 135633”, derived from "KZ", the administrative abbreviation accepted by the Nazis for Konzentrationslager, meaning "concentration camp". In his day-to-day life, he was known by the name Yehiel De-Nur.

The writer Yehiel De-Nur, who passed away 22 years ago, was known as one of the greatest writers who wrote about the Holocaust and its aftermath. Why then did he go to such lengths to destroy any trace of his first book?

Before the Holocaust, in 1931, Yehiel Feiner published a book of poems in Yiddish, "Tzveyontzwantzik" ("twenty-two"). The great break caused by the Nazi atrocities in his soul brought him to the realization that his friend, the writer Yehiel Feiner, was destroyed in the Holocaust, along with everything dear to him. And not only that, but there is no point or meaning in dealing with Feiner's work, which saw the light of day before the Holocaust.

For De-Nur, the Holocaust brought an absolute end to the world that was before it. Feiner was destroyed and with him his work also lost all grip on its world. Ka-Tsetnik, the writer active after the Holocaust, was a new creator who is not at all related to Yehiel Feiner who lived and created before the Holocaust.

Ka-Tsetnik testified in his words and in his work about "another planet" (a concept coined in his testimony at the Eichmann trial, in 1961), the planet of Auschwitz. The Israeli citizen Yehiel De-Nur, on the other hand, made sure to put everything in its place, so that things would be clear: before the Holocaust, during the Holocaust and after the Holocaust - these are three separate worlds, with no overlap between them.

After the war, when he learned about a copy of the book of poems deposited in the National Library, Ka-Tsetnik would come to the library, take out the book and destroy it. This happened three times between the years 1953-1993. In 1953 and 1964 he burned the copies of the book he had published. In a letter he wrote to the manager of the library warehouse, Shlomo Goldberg, in 1993, after the third time he took out the book and asked for it to be lost from the world, he tells about the first time:

"In 1953, during my stay in New York, I was informed that the 'book' by the writer who was exterminated in Auschwitz was in the National Library... I went to the library, presented my PAN [World Association of Writers] certificate as a writer from Israel writing the life story of this writer who was exterminated, I received the book, left the library, burned the book."

The second time is also mentioned in the letter: "I heard from two students, who are tracing the biographies of Ka-Tsetnik, that the 'book' is in the National Library in Jerusalem, and the sequel is known."

Years later, following a controversial treatment that included hallucinogenic drugs, De-Nur withdrew from the "other planet" concept. A vision in which he found himself in an SS uniform. Ace shocked him and changed his attitude towards Auschwitz: the victim and the executioner are both human and may change roles. Auschwitz is no longer another planet - but is placed at the doorstep of every person. "As for man - the name Auschwitz, because it was not the devil who created Auschwitz, but me and you"

[From the Code of Tears: The Nuclear Burden of Auschwitz (Chronicle of a Jewish Family in the Twentieth Century)].

The Yehiel De-Nur (Ka-Tsetnik) archive is digitally available at the National Library as part of a collaboration between the Ganzam Institute Archives - the Association of Hebrew Writers in the State of Israel (AR), the Ministry of Heritage and the Landmarks Program, the Judaica Division at the Harvard Library and the National Library of Israel.

In the picture: K. Tsatnik faints during his testimony at the Eichmann trial. Photo: L.A.M.

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