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Yitzhak Katzenelson - His life, death and poems...

Yitzhak Katzenelson

Jewish Poet, Playwright and Educator

Yitzhak Katzenelson

Yitzhak Katzenelson was born on 21 July 1886, in Karelitz, now Korelichi, near the Belorussian capital of Minsk, as the son of Hinda Katzenelson and Jakob Benjamin Katzenelson, who was a writer and a teacher.

Soon after his birth, the Katzenelson family moved to Lodz, where Yitzhak was considered a literary prodigy. By the age of twelve, he already had written his first play, Dreyfus un Esterhazy, which he performed with other young people in his own backyard.

As an adult, he first became known for his Hebrew textbooks and books for children, which were the first of their kind. He also wrote Yiddish comedies, which he translated into Hebrew. His first volume of poetry, Dimdumim (Hebrew for twilight). Appeared in 1910, and two years later Katzenelson founded the theatre Habima Halvrit (The Hebrew Stage) and a Hebrew school in Lodz. He also contributed to the development of modern Hebrew through his work as a translator. He translated works by Shakespeare and Heine, among others, into Hebrew.


Several of his Yiddish plays were performed in Lodz even before the First World War, and he took it on tours of cities in Poland and Lithuania. Before the First World War Katzenelson undertook the creation of a network of Hebrew schools in Lodz, from kindergarten to high school, which functioned until 1939. He was the author of textbooks, biblical plays, and children’s books.

Beginning in 1930 he belonged to the Dror movement in Lodz and to the He- Haluts movement, the latter operating a training kibbutz- Kibbutz Hakhsharah in Lodz. Katzenelson’s work in the interwar period was based on his sense that Jewish life in the Diaspora was incomplete; this belief also motivated his participation in cultural and other public affairs in those years. Such feelings appear in his works in the form of sombre symbols of death, boredom, and silence.In his Yiddish play Tarshish, Katzenelson deals with the roots of anti-Semitism in Poland and with the utter hopelessness of Jewish life on Polish soil.


The German blitzkrieg against Poland began on 1September 1939, and eight days later Lodz, then home to some 250,000 Jews, was occupied by the Germans. Like many other Jewish institutions, Katzenelson’s school was closed; it later served as Gestapo headquarters.

At the urging of his family, Katzenelson fled in late November 1939 to Warsaw, his wife Hanna and their three children followed him there. In the Warsaw Ghetto Katzenelson worked in the underground as a teacher of religion and Hebrew and published under various pseudonyms , poems, short plays and articles in the underground newspaper of the socialist Zionist organisation Dror (freedom in Hebrew). Many of his works dealt with current events, while others had Biblical or historical settings and served as a transparent reflection of what was occurring at the time.

Katzenelson wrote poems about hunger and cold, which were intended not as works of art, but as a vivid expression of suffering, his images were a realistic expression in reaction to the desolate circumstances. The time in the Warsaw Ghetto was Katzenelson’s most creative period. In the ghetto he wrote approximately fifty plays, epics in verse and poems.

Read more here: http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/survivor/katzenelson.html

The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
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Copyright Carmelo Lisciotto  H.E.A.R.T 2012



Copyright Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2010

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