Sunday, July 8, 2012

House of Dolls. Ka-Tzetnik 135633

Ka-Tzetnik 135633, House of Dolls (Simon and Schuster, 1955)
Paperback 224 pages Mayflower Books (1973)
It is said that many Jewish parents and teachers do not protect their young from stories that reflect the harsh events in the past and present such as the horrors during Expulsion from Spain. This directness and realism brings a strong element of strength and endurance to Jewish existence from young on.  Avarnu et par'o, na'avor gam et zeh... (We survived Pharaoh, we will survive also this). It is often in contrast with the softer protective cotton wrapping Western parents and schools try to give children censoring even some Biblical stories as too rough and violent.
The House of Dolls is a 1955 novella by Ka-tzetnik 135633. The novella describes "Joy Divisions", which were allegedly groups of Jewish women in the concentration camps during World War II who were kept for the sexual pleasure of Nazi soldiers.

The origin of Ka-tzetnik's story is not clear. Some say it is based on a diary kept by a young Jewish girl who was captured in Poland when she was fourteen years old and forced into sexual slavery in a Nazi labour camp. However, the diary itself has not been located or verified to exist. Others claim, and the author suggests as much in his later book Shivitti, that it is based on the actual history of Ka-tzetnik's younger sister (The House of Dolls is about the sister of Ka-tzetnik's protagonist, Harry Preleshnik). However, Ka-tzetnik did not have a sister in real life.
Having House of Dolls as recommended reading in high school curriculum in Israel fits this educational philosophy letting teenagers know how it really was. The approach certainly has its psychological merits in preparing for the adult life and giving personal strength.

Ka-Tzetnik 135633
The author of this totally unforgettable book, Yehiel Feiner (16 May 1909 – 17 July 2001), is better known as Ka-tzetnik 135633, which comes from comes from KZ Konzentrationslager.  He was for two years a prisoner in Auschwitz where the brothel existed.
In 1976, because of recurring nightmares and depression, he subjected himself to a form of psychedelic psychotherapy from Dr. Jan Bastiaans that included the use of LSD; the visions experienced during this therapy became the basis for his book, Shivitti.

The book's title is derived from David's Psalm 16, "תהילים טז: "שיויתי ה' לנגדי תמיד, more accurately translated in Acts 2:25: "I saw the Lord always before me", or "I was always beholding the Lord in my presence".

He died of cancer in Tel Aviv on 17 July 2001.
Fact or fiction?
There has been serious debate in Israel among historians whether the book is fact or fiction - or a mixture of the two. A general description of the conditions of imprisoned women in Auschwitz SS Female Overseers in Auschwitz provides background for understanding Ka-Tzetnik's book regardless of the accuracy of its contents.

For example, Na'ama Shik who is a researcher at Yad Vashem considers the book fictional. 
The Jerusalem Journal article yesterday, about the pornographic pocket books with Nazi themes that were circulated in Israel in the 1960s, misquoted Na’ama Shik, a researcher at Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, regarding the pocket book “Doll’s House,” about a Jewish woman serving in a notorious brothel called Block 24 in Auschwitz. She said the book — not Block 24 — was fictional.
New York Times 2007
 Author David Mikics has recently written about Ka-tzetnik in Tablet. A new read on Jewish life April 19, 2012
Of all the witnesses at the Eichmann trial, the event that gripped the Jewish world in 1961, he is the one the Israeli public would remember most vividly. Facing Eichmann in his glass booth, he spoke for a few minutes, in agonized, disconnected fashion, and then collapsed in a faint. A few minutes later he was carried off to a hospital, to be treated for a nervous breakdown.

His second book, House of Dolls (published in Israel in 1953) was a wild success and was translated into a dozen languages. House of Dolls is a meandering mess of a book; its real point is its explosive conclusion. In the last 50 pages, the hero’s sister Daniella becomes a prostitute in a women’s labor camp: She is forced to join the camp’s Freudenabteilung or “Joy Division,” which services German soldiers (yes, that’s where the pallid, death-obsessed British band got its name—from Ka-Tzetnik’s book). The girls selected for the Joy Division have Feld-Hure (military whore) tattooed between their breasts. (The tattooing really happened, although the brothel at Auschwitz was frequented only by Kapos and other privileged prisoners, not by the SS.) The girls suffer under an ardent and brutal lesbian boss named Elsa, who forces them to strip naked, then bends them over a chair and lashes them. [Actually they were clubbed to death in this position in front of the other inmates as a warning for them for getting three complaints from the clients...]
David Mikics
Read the entire article here 
David Mikics suggests that the House of Dolls does mix fact and fiction but exactly as such it is penetrating truthful description of the times.

I agree with Mikics and think this unpolished classic better than many more civilized Holocaust era books conveys the atmosphere of utter destruction of beauty and human life that was so rampant in Hitler's Third Reich. This is an unprecedented display of the banality of evil as it was called by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a  German theologian and himself a victim of Adolf Hitler.

The sad thing we realize from the enormous popularity of this novel is that it is not only the Nazis or "Germans" who are capable of imagining and realizing such horrific selfishness and enslaving others for their pleasure but we humans in general. The circumstances and Nazi ideology made it possible in Auschwitz but such acts of desire and death are also possible today if we do not prevent it. 

This haunted book by a haunted author is an unforgettable memorial to the Jewish women and to all women who were enslaved, humiliated and destroyed in Auschwitz Block 24 between 1942 and 1945.

Am Israel Hai
The pride of those Elsa's in Block 24 is no more - it is nothing but a cursed memory.

But the people of Israel live and prosper and "we passed also that..." Here is the Psalm 16 that the name of  Ka-Tzetnik's other book Shivitti refers to

A miktam of David.

Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    apart from you I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
    “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
    I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
    or take up their names on my lips.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Israel's biggest problem - the God of Israel

Altneuland First Edition cover
image wikimedia
The Promise
Would it not be nice to have a blank check from your God - this is your Land, I have given it to you, go and possess it using whatever methods are needed! If God would also promise "I am with you, I will fight with you and give you victory and make you the greatest among the nations" it would not hurt! Not only for nationalistic and religious people but for all Israel such a blank check would be quite inspiring and motivating in taking the Holy Land back to its righteous owners after such a long absence of the landlord.

There is such a divine sentiment in the winds of today's Near East and heightened Messianic expectations in the air. The struggle of the Jewish state for her destiny is absorbing the attention of the entire world.

Rabbi Moshe Ben Mainonides
Who denies the Land denies God.
image wikimedia
There have been and there are learned respected rabbis who read the promises and commandments in the Torah, know their interpretations in the Talmud and every nuance in the writings of the greatest of Israel. They teach the sacred traditions to the children of modern day Exodus and Joshua.

There are politicians in the Knesset today who have the divine promises at their hearts and who are inspired by the prophets of the past in making the decisions today. The nation is divided between religious and secular camps that argue about most of the things most of the time but the process of conquest goes on regardless. International interventions only add fuel to the fire.

Western Wall and al-Aqsa Mosque - tough nut in modern politics
image wikimedia

Religion has carried the Jewish people through all these millennia and Judaism is among the oldest surviving religions among humanity. The Bible is inspiring and guiding young generations of Israel showing steady way forward and purpose in the midst of the confusing multitudes of opinions in today's world. One day the Temple of Jerusalem shall stand again, as the secular prophet Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, saw gasping his breath in Das Altneuland (1902). It is a truly noble cause to restore Judaism into its fullness with the Temple.

So where is the problem?

The problem is that the God of Israel is real. He is the only real God there is.
Land and behaviour
It is true that Torah contains the promise of the Land given by the Lord to father Abraham sojourning in the Land of Canaan. The command to take possession of the Land was given to Moses and Joshua and the Land was taken even we do not know all the details of how.

But the Promise and the Commandment (mitzva) are not all the Bible says about this matter. The fierce eyes of the God of Israel penetrate deep into the soul of His people and He does not like everything what He sees there from where deeds originally come.

One of the ways in which the Bible emphasizes the direct connection between the behaviour of the people of God and their security and prosperity in the Land is to describe how angered God allowed the enemies of Israel to become powerful.
In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.
Judges 2:14 NIV
That is a rather scary God with temper.

Examples from Biblical history
The generation that left Egypt in the midst of such miracles perished entirely in Sinai Desert and was not seen worthy to enter the Promised Land. Are you sure this generation with so much blood in hands is worthy of building the Temple?

The first King of Israel, Saul, was considered not fit to rule and God allowed him to be killed on the mountains of Gilboa in a desperate battle with the Philistines.Who is the King of Israel?

The legendary King David was seen by prophet Nathan committing horrific crime against a hero warrior Uriah. Watch the freedom of press - it hurts but does a good healthy job for the nation!

And the list goes on, from king to king, from judge to judge, from religious leaders to the simplest among the people, things get worse and worse in the eyes of the Holy of Israel.

In Deuteronomy 28 this fearsome God of Israel is in real bad mood and says through Moses something very nasty "I will enjoy doing bad to you". (Deut 28:63) That might be funny if we do not remember that every single one of those horrific threats has become true "and you become mad at what you see". (Deut 28:34) This is not an easy God to be chosen by.

After the return from Exile the people of Israel had learned some lessons and no more idols are found in archaeological excavations in Jerusalem that was filled with Ashtarte figurines before the Babylonians came. Words were not enough and prophet Jeremiah was thrown into prison hole as a traitor of the national cause. But his words became true and his persecutors perished.

No one can read the descriptions of the High Priests battling for power after the Maccabean wars without thinking "are these High Priests?" In horror we read also today about the wicked deeds of Alexander Janneus (King Yannai in Talmud) the founder of Masada. Being the people of the only real God there is does not automatically guarantee righteousness and justice. Beware of religious people!

At one point God Himself was walking on the streets of Jerusalem and we all know what happened to Him.

Sorry, but there is no blank check
The writings in the Bible are so enormously powerful because they are so truthful. The Jewish Scriptures contain such a penetrating and honest description of the people of God that no other ancient religious book about the rulers and their people comes even near. Truth.

The biggest problem of Israel today is the God of Israel. For that is where the bucket ends and the Land makes this relationship so acute.

His promises are wonderful, His rule of the history majestic, His judgements are deep indeed and His whip is more fearsome than any other whip in the Universe.