Another Jewish life cut tragically short by the Nazis

Author and Auschwitz survivor Yehiel Dinur dies of cancer at 84

By Tom Segev

Ha’aretz, Monday, July 23, 2001


Author Yehiel Dinur, who used the pen name K. Zetnik, died last Tuesday of cancer at his home in Tel Aviv, at the age of 84.[…].


Dinur, a survivor of Auschwitz, was one of the first Israeli authors to write about the Holocaust.[…]

His work was translated into dozens of languages. His books contained detailed descriptions of the horrors of Auschwitz, including torture, cannibalism, and sexual abuse of children.[…]

Dinur appeared as a prosecution witness in the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961. Describing his two years in Auschwitz, he said: “Time there runs differently than it does here, on the face of the earth … Residents of that planet had no names. They had no parents and no children. They didn’t dress as we dress here. They weren’t born there and didn’t give birth. They breathed according to different laws of nature. They didn’t live according to the laws of the world here, and they didn’t die. Their name was a number…”


With time, as Israel’s cultural memory developed, there were those who opposed teaching K. Zetnik’s books in the schools and even described them as kitsch bordering on pornography. Dinur himself worked throughout his life to distribute his books to schools, even setting up a multi-million shekel foundation that worked with the Education Ministry on this goal. But with the passing years, many schools preferred to teach the works of Primo Levi instead.


The revelation of his identity during the Eichmann trial apparently put him under great stress. At one point, speaking of the other prisoners in Auschwitz, he said: “They went away from me, they always went away from me, and always left me behind… I see them, they are looking at me, I see them…” When Judge Moshe Landau attempted to interrupt him and get him to answer the prosecutor’s questions, Dinur suddenly collapsed, fainting, in what is today remembered as one of the most dramatic moments of the trial.


In the early 1970s, Dinur traveled to Holland to undergo a new and controversial treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. The treatment involved receiving injections of LSD that caused him to enter a trance, during which he would describe his Auschwitz experiences and the attendant psychiatrist would videotape them.