The Itzhak Katzenelson Collection
Brief biography of Itzhak Katzenelson
Poet, author, playwright, teacher, and educator, Itzhak-Yechiel Katzenelson was born in 1885 or 1886 in Karelicze, Minsk district, Belorussia. In 1887 his family relocated to Lodz. Katzenelson’s literary, dramatic, and pedagogical talents were recognized at an early age, he wrote plays, poems, and stories for children. In Lodz in 1912, he founded the “Hebrew Stage” theatre. He opened and directed a network of secular Hebrew day schools for kindergarten through high school. A member of the Dror Zionist movement, he was active in its “Borochov” pioneering training commune and was a guiding force in its social and cultural life. Katzenelson visited Mandate Palestine in 1924 and 1934. Three months after Lodz was conquered, Itzhak Katzenelson left for Warsaw, and soon was joined there by his wife and their three sons.
In Nazi-occupied Warsaw, Katzenelson wrote for the Jewish underground press and took part in clandestine educational and cultural activities. He taught in the clandestine high school and led seminar studies for Dror members. During the Great Aktion of Summer 1942, he and his eldest son worked in the “shop” of German industrialist K.G. Schultz, while his wife and two younger sons were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp. Itzhak Katzenelson’s strong support for active Jewish resistance to the German occupation is expressed in his elegy, “The Song of the Murdered Jewish People” [Yiddish: Dos Lid funem Oysgehargetn Yidishn Folk].
On 20 April 1943, the second day of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, Katzenelson was taken to the city’s “Aryan” side and went into hiding. In May he was deported as a foreign national to the Vittel detention camp in France. There he continued his writing until 29 April 1944, when he and his son were deported to the Birkenau extermination camp, where both perished. Katzenelson’s last works were written in Vittel; some were published posthumously as his “Vittel Diary.” Beit Lohamei Haghetaot –The Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum of the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Heritage bears his name.
On 20 July 1942, two days before the start of the "Great Aktion" deportations in the Warsaw ghetto, Mordechai Tenenbaum-Tamaroff buried some of Itzhak Katzenelson’s manuscripts along with the archives of the Zionist youth movement Dror, in the basement of the building at No. 34 Dzielna Street in the ghetto, where Dror had its commune. The hidden documents were unearthed in the spring of 1945, and in April 1947 they were brought to Mandate Palestine and then to the Archives of Beit Lohamei Haghetaot. Other manuscripts of Katzenelson’s, hidden in the ghetto along with the “Oneg Shabbat” Archives, are now preserved in the Jewish Historical Archives (Żydowski Instytut Historyczny; ŻIH) in Warsaw. The fate of his other writings from the ghetto period is unknown. Of his manuscripts from the Vittel camp, some were buried there by Miriam Novitch who retrieved them after the Liberation and brought them to Mandate Palestine. The manuscript of his elegy, “The Song of the Murdered Jewish People,” was smuggled out in the handle of Ruth Adler’s suitcase along with his letter to Berl Katznelson and Yitzhak Tabenkin, Labor Zionist leaders of the Yishuv, and brought to them in Palestine in the summer of 1944. Parts of Itzhak Katzenelson’s “Vittel Diary,” were smuggled out of the camp by Miriam Novitch and brought by her to Palestine and the Archives. Other writings, principally his correspondence with family and various cultural and literary figures, were transferred to the GFH Archives by members of the Katzenelson family and private individuals.
The "Song," the "Vittel Diary" and others of Itzhak Katzenelson's writings held in the GFH Archives, were initially published by Beit Lohamei Haghetaot. Numerous foreign-language translations exist.
The collection contains the works of poet and educator Itzhak Katzenelson, based on periods in his life and crucial events from the early 20th C. through and including the Holocaust.
Materials include manuscripts of plays, prose works, and poetry; his correspondence with figures in the spheres of culture, education and literature; his letters to family members; and more.
The collection has four chronological divisions: (a) his pre-war writings and correspondence; (b) his Warsaw ghetto works; (c) his Vittel camp works; (d) correspondence about the fate of Katzenelson and about his writings.
Those archival materials which have been digitized and made available for viewing -- accessed on this site or through the GFH website’s Online Archive -- may be downloaded for personal use and classroom presentation, but not for distribution in any media.
High-resolution images of archival materials are available by order; there is a fee for this service.
Description of the files are available online in the Archives section of the GFH website, searchable by text elements and key words, and onsite on the IDEA ALM system in the GFH Archives Researchers’ Room.
For most files, a digital scanned image of the actual documents is available for viewing online or downloading as a .pdf file. Use of the latter is limited by the description in “Conditions Governing Reproduction” (See Conditions, above).
Collection created 31.xii.2013 by AB-E Edited and enriched 22.v.2014 by dcsj for AB-E