By Rochelle Maruch Miller
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” and Kestenbaum & Company’s forthcoming auction of fine Judaica is a not-to-be-missed event. The event, which will take place on Thursday, June 26, at 3:00 p.m. at the company’s gallery in New York City, offers an extensive selection of books, manuscripts, autograph letters, ceremonial objects, and graphic art, including Holy Land maps and the collection of Nathan Lewin, Esq.
Among the outstanding pieces and artwork that will be featured at the forthcoming auction, I would like to draw the reader’s attention to Lot #119—Tzveiuntzvantzik Lider (“Twenty-Two Poems”) First Edition—Yiddish Text; Frontispiece Portrait of the Author in Chassidic Garb. This is a book of poetry by Yechiel Feiner (Dinur) who, following his experience in Auschwitz, assumed the nom de plume Ka-Tzetnik 135633, referring to his concentration-camp number.
This book of 22 deeply emotive poems, penned by the author at age 22, is possibly the only copy extant of Ka-Tzetnik’s first publication, signed by the author, with frontispiece photographic portrait and the original illustrated printed cover. At the time of publication, the author was a chassidic student in Chochmei Lublin, one of Poland’s most prestigious yeshivas.
Dinur (1909—2001) was the sole member of his extensive family from Sosnowic to survive the horrors of the Holocaust, eventually arriving in Israel from Poland in a state of deepest depression, verging on suicide. Nevertheless, he began to write, penning in lurid detail the torments and tortures of living through the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camps, using the pen name Ka-Tzetnik 135633.
It was at his appearance at the Jerusalem trial of Adolph Eichmann in 1961 that the broader Israeli public first had a glimpse of the secretive man when he dramatically fainted, shortly after taking the stand as a witness for the prosecution.
In response to the question of why he hides behind the name Ka-Tzetnik, Dinur responded, “Auschwitz was a different planet . . . time there runs differently than it does here on Earth. Residents of that planet were human skeletons and had no names. They had no parents and no children. They weren’t born there and didn’t give birth there. They breathed according to different laws of nature. They didn’t live according to the rules of the world here, and they didn’t die. Their name was their Ka-Tzetnik number.” Speaking of the other prisoners in Auschwitz he said, “I see them, they are looking at me, I see them . . .” at which point of testimony Dinur collapsed. The trial’s chief prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, later wrote that the effect of these few words contained “more than many, many volumes of testimony” and thus utterly gripped the public.
Even after his identity was revealed, Dinur refused to speak about his pre-Auschwitz past, as if he were “born” in the death camp. On rare occasions when he explained his reluctance to discuss his past, he said he had no right to live, except as a Holocaust survivor, for all that had existed prior was utterly destroyed. Hence, he actively sought out the extant copies of this book of poetry from his yeshiva days and destroyed them. When in 1993 Ka-Tzetnik discovered that a copy of Tzveiuntzvantzik existed in Jerusalem’s Hebrew University Library, he promptly stole it and sent the charred remains back to the library with the instruction to burn the remnants of the book “just as my world and all that was dear to me was burnt in the Auschwitz crematorium.” In 2011, these remnants were exhibited in the Israel National Library alongside such universal totemic rarities as autograph manuscripts by the Rambam, and l’havdil, Sir Isaac Newton and Franz Kafka. Ka-Tzetnik’s immensely scarce first book, written in his youth in Poland, is of the utmost rarity.
“Among the many outstanding attributes that make Kestenbaum & Company unique is that we deal exclusively with fine Judaica, whereas the other major auction houses do not,” explained Abigail Meyer, Kestenbaum and Company’s head of the department of ceremonial objects and fine art. Indeed, the upcoming auction will showcase extensive collections of fine Judaica, including artwork by such esteemed artists as Zalman Kleinman and Itshak Holtz.
Holtz has stated that his artwork that primarily depicts scenes of Jewish spirituality and tradition is driven by his Orthodox Judaism. He has been classified in the school of genre painting, often depicting scenes of ordinary people in everyday Jewish life in back alleys and markets of Jewish neighborhoods such as Meah Shearim and Geulah, as well as in New York’s Boro Park, Williamsburg, and Monsey.
Along with street scenes, Holtz’s work includes portraits of sofrim, tailors, and cobblers, and images such as shtetels, lighthouses, and wedding scenes. His Israeli street scenes are said to “combine an affectionate recollection of the past with the brilliance and color of modern Israel.”
Kestenbaum & Company is located at 242 West 30th Street, New York, NY 10001. Call 212-366-1197 for more information. v