"The hall was devoid of blood, of fear, of pleading.
The hall was filled with words."
The trial of Adolf Eichmann is considered by many to be a watershed in Israel's relationship to the memory of the Holocaust. The trial, which had pronounced political and educational overtones, provided some dramatic and heart-wrenching moments; perhaps the most iconic among them was Katzetnik's collapse on the witness stand. While a myriad of works have been written about the trial itself, Katzetnik's testimony has received little scholarly attention. The most elaborate and authoritative is Shoshana Felman's interpretation, which appears in her book The Juridical Unconscious. Felman sees Katzetnik's testimony in par with her thesis about the "crisis of witness", that is, the increasing inability of language to convey appropriately the horrors of the twentieth century (with the Holocaust being their epitome). For Felman, the witness's collapse acts out the Holocaust trauma in ways that the legal discourse could never have. While accepting Felman's distinction between the legal discourse and what might be termed Katzetnik's "artistic" discourse, I am reluctant to fault his collapse entirely on the resurgence of his Auschwitz memories. As Katzetnik devoted his life to the re-telling of Auschwitz, one should doubt that even in the face of Eichamnn, Katzetnik's faculties would fail him so miserably. Without downplaying the force of Katzetnik's Auschwitz trauma, I would like to suggest that it was the specific settings of his testimony that facilitated his breakdown. I would like to use Jean-François Lyotard's concept of differend, which deals with a scenario where a subject is unable to state his claim because the discourse within which he speaks lacks the linguistic means necessary to formulate his plea, to show how the differences, both stylistic and ethical, between Katzetnik's testimony and the legal discourse, becoming more and more incommensurable with every utterance, had finally brought about the collapse of Katzetnik's language and body.
By re-contextualizing Katzetnik's collapse into the specific historical settings of the trial, I hope to show that far from subscribing to the thesis about the "inability to speak of the Holocaust", Katzetnik did everything within his rhetorical power to re-present the Auschwitz dead in the courtroom; it was the indeed the differend between Katzetnik and the representatives of the Law that rendered him mute – not the memory of Auschwitz. By juxtaposing Katzetnik's testimony with the famous first lines of Gideon Hausner's opening address, I will show who the witness and the prosecutor had both formulated radically different and incompatible approaches to the memory of the Holocaust dead, and how, subsequent to his collapse, Katzetnik's testimony was incorporated into Hausner's own grand legal narrative, turning it, ironically, into the epitome of the "unspeakability of Auschwitz".
"…We have to tell, tell, tell, without end or boundary, about all that happened there."
Unlike many testimonies in the Eichmann trial, which bore little legal relevance to the charges against Eichmann, Katzetnik's testimony was supposed to prove that Eichmann had actually been to Auschwitz. It is perhaps ironic that in a trial designed to encompass the full scale of the genocide, it was Katzetnik, a man feverishly dedicated to this very same goal, who was asked to corroborate some specific, localized, event. But the misunderstandings between Katzetnik and the court did not end there. As Katzetnik takes to the stand, Judge Landau refers to him as a literary writer, asking him about his pen name. But the witness replies:
"It was not a pen name. I do not regard myself as a writer and a composer of literary material. This is a chronicle of the planet of Auschwitz."
And yet, his testimony will soon prove to be replete with literary techniques: metaphors and images ("…the planet called Auschwitz…this crucifixion of a nation…this plant of the ashes…"), analogies and repetition (…they had no parents nor did they have children…they were not born there and they did not give birth…they did not live – nor did they die…") and an almost lyrical rhythm ("For they left me, they always left me, they were parted from me, and this oath always appeared in the look of their eyes").
Katzetnik's self-designation as a chronicler, not a literary writer, stands in contradiction to the figurative, poetic, abundance of his testimony. The hypnotic rhythm in which he speaks has a theatrical streak to it, turning his testimony into a performance, a performance of being-witness.
How does Katzetnik understand being a witness? The witness is an apostle ("I believe…that I have to continue to bear this name so long as the world has not been aroused after this crucifixion of a nation…"[emphasis added]) and a hagiographer. He is a living remnant –"if I, a fall-out of that planet, am able to be here at this time…" – who owes his survival to dead he left behind –" I believe with perfect faith that this is due to the oath I sworn to them there."
And yet, despite being a survivor, a singular fall-out, the witness does not bear a name of his own. His name is Katzetnik, which is the generic designation of all prisoners of Nazi concentration camps. Katzetnik, who chose to voluntarily bear this name after the war, constitutes himself as a subject only in his capacity to serve as a proxy to the Katzetnik category in its entirety, to the undifferentiated mass of prisoners who had no names, no parents and no children.
Thus, the witness serves as a medium. He is not the author of his own speech, but a terminal through which the Auschwitz dead re-present themselves in the here and now. Being-witness, according to Katzetnik, is to turn against one's own subjectivity, exchanging the cogito with a legion of murdered Jews. At the beginning of Katzetnik's testimony, there is a clear demarcation between the Auschwitz dead and himself:
"I was there for about two years…the inhabitants of this planet had no names, they had no parents nor did they have children. There they did not dress in the way we dress here; they were not born there and they did not give birth; they breathed according to different laws of nature; they did not live – nor did they die – according to the laws of this world. Their name was the number 'Kazetnik'."
But this clear demarcation rapidly dissolves as Katzetnik nears his breakdown. Toward the end of his testimony, the "I" of the witness cannot be separated from "them":
"If I am able to stand before you today and relate the events within that planet, if I, a fall-out of that planet, am able to be here at this time, then I believe with perfect faith that this is due to the oath I sworn to them there. They gave me this strength. This oath was the armour with which I acquired the supernatural power, so that I should be able, after time – the time of Auschwitz – the two years when I was a Musselman, to overcome it. For they left me, they always left me, they were parted from me, and this oath always appeared in the look of their eyes."
In the meanwhile, both attorney-general Hausner and the Judges try to reroute Katzetnik back into the legal discourse; unlike the witness they are laconic and polite:
"Perhaps you will allow me, Mr. Dinur, to put a number of questions to you, if you will agree?"
But by now the witness is no longer Mr. Dinur; he is now Katzetnik, a voice for the dead. And when Katzetnik speaks of – and for – the Auschwitz dead instead of speaking about Eichmann, he loses his place within the legal discourse. The prosecutor and the judges do not know what to make of Katzetnik's testimony; they try to lull him back, reintroduce him into the legal order:
"Presiding Judge: Mr. Dinur, kindly listen to what the Attorney General has to say."
Katzetnik's testimony seems to go unheard by the representatives of the law. They need facts, dates, names – not a poetic, almost prophetic, conjuration. At this point, I would like to argue, Katzetnik is in a state of differend. Lyotard defines the differend thusly:
“I would like to call a differend the case where the plaintiff is divested of the means to argue and becomes for that reason a victim.”
Obviously, Katzetnik is a witness, not a plaintiff, but I would like to argue that by insisting on an ethical-poetic register which becomes more and more inconsistent with the legal discourse, Katzetnik is indeed divested of the means to convey his raison d'être. Immanently torn between historiography and poetics, between "I" and "them", Katzetnik's testimony literally falls apart. The last moments of the testimony are transcribed in a dry, detached manner:
"Presiding Judge: Mr. Dinur, kindly listen to what the Attorney General has to say.
[Witness Dinur rises from his place, descends from the witness stand, and collapses on the platform. The witness fainted.]"
At this critical moment Katzetnik performs the state of differend; his stepping down from the witness stand is also his resignation from the position of being a witness. Divested of the means to state his claim, unable to be a medium for the dead, he goes into a complete shutdown. If Katzetnik believed that he had survived Auschwitz only because he had sworn an oath to the dead, it is only logical that once he is unable to fulfill his commitment, he performs the death that he has evaded for so long.
As a result, the legal discourse is suspended momentarily, while the prosecutor and the judges try to understand what had just happened:
"Presiding Judge: I think we shall have to adjourn the session. I do not think that we can continue.
Attorney General: I did not anticipate this."
The crowd buzzes with astonishment and anxiety; the writer's wife rushes over to him and an ambulance is been called. This extra-legal commotion cannot find its way in to the session's protocol; between the witness's collapse and the next time the presiding judge speaks, the only entry in the protocol is an equivocal statement, encased in parentheses:
"[After some time]"
Consider this discursive act of boxing in. the unruly extra-legal can be incorporated into the protocol only within the confines of parentheses; it was, of course, the witness's stepping out of the box that caused all the brouhaha to begin with. It seems that, in the context of the Eichmann trial, the law can address the extra-legal only when it is framed within the parameters, syntactic or otherwise, of the law itself. It is interesting to note, apropos, that the defendant himself, the Nazi monster captured in South America, was put by the Israeli Authorities in a large, transparent, glass box.
Indeed, Katzetnik's disruption did cause the presiding judge to adjourn the session. But the trial went on without Katzetnik's input, resulting in Eichmann's conviction and execution. Katzetnik failed testimony was interpreted in the spirit of the trial: the failure to testify was in itself a testimony to the unspeakable, un-representable, horror of the Holocaust. But this interpretation is an a-historical one, paradoxically, precisely because it gives Katzetnik's past such overriding precedence over the specific context of his testimony. Up until now we have analyzed Katzentik's register; by analyzing the ethics embedded in his short and pregnant testimony and comparing it to Attorney-General Hausner's opening address, I will show that Katzetnik's radical testimonial ethics were completely incongruent with the over-all narrative constructed by Hausner. Thus, I will re-contextualize Katzetnik's testimony into the specific ideological settings of the trial. In the context of the trial as a political project, Katzetnik's botched Testimony constitutes, perhaps unwittingly, an alternative to way the prosecution had interpreted, and had used, the memory of the dead. Alas, the witness's collapse, caused exactly by the differend between him and the representatives of the law, allowed his testimony to be interpreted by, and incorporated into, Hausner's ethics, thus neutralizing its radical potential.
Two Ways to Speak for the Dead
If Katzetnik's relation to the dead is one of self-effacement, Hausner tells their story in a way that aggrandizes the Zionist ethos. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the famous opening line of his opening address:
"When I stand before you here, Judges of Israel, to lead the Prosecution of Adolf Eichmann, I am not standing alone. With me are six million accusers. But they cannot rise to their feet and point an accusing finger towards him who sits in the dock and cry: "I accuse." For their ashes are piled up on the hills of Auschwitz and the fields of Treblinka, and are strewn in the forests of Poland. Their graves are scattered throughout the length and breadth of Europe. Their blood cries out, but their voice is not heard. Therefore I will be their spokesman and in their name I will unfold the awesome indictment."
While Hausner's words echo Katzetnik's in their poetic abundance, the differences between them abound: firstly, Katzetnik recalls his fellow inmates alive, albeit moments before their death, while the "six million accusers" are brought up post-mortem; Katzetnik's dead have fiery, demanding eyes, while for Hausner the dead are a demographic figure, the tentative citizens of the nascent State of Israel.
Secondly, Katzetnik is clearly dependant on his dead. They saved his life and he is but their delegate in the present. Hausner's relation to the dead, on the other hand, is more paternalistic. If Katzetnik's dead have shown tremendous powers, allowing Katzetnik to survive the unsurvivable, Hausner's dead are practically paralyzed and mute: "they cannot rise to their feet and point an accusing finger…and cry: 'I accuse'”.
Thirdly, while Katzetnik's testimony is riddled with optical relations:
"For they left me…and this oath always appeared in the look of their eyes…I see them, they are staring at me, I see them, I saw them standing in the queue…"
Hausner's address is full with auditory allusions:
"But they cannot…cry: 'I accuse'…Their blood cries out, but their voice is not heard. Therefore I will be their spokesman…"
While Katzetnik and the prisoners of Auschwitz look at each other and acknowledge each other, the attorney-general cannot hear the demographic figure's voice; and so, he has to speak for the six million victims. Or, more precisely, Hausner speaks of, and for, their death. It is their dying, the fact that "their ashes are piled up on the hills of Auschwitz and the fields of Treblinka, and are strewn in the forests of Poland[,] [That] their graves are scattered throughout the length and breadth of Europe…" that renders them mute. When Hausner mentions here Poland and Europe as the Jews' burial ground, he does not speak solely of biological death. Europe marks also a political death: only in Israel, the only sovereign Jewish entity in the world, can the Holocaust victims' voices become audible again, through the power of the state to apprehend Eichmann and to put him on trial.
Much like Katzetnik's fellow prisoners, Hausner's six million are present here and now in the court room; they: "stand with him as accusers". But their presence is spectral and impotent; they are present, so to speak, in their absence. Hausner, on the other hand, is an active, powerful agent. Consider how the paragraph, while beginning with a sort of co-operation between Hausner and the dead, goes on to elaborate on the dead's incompetence, leaving Hausner the sole custodian over the meaning of six million deaths.
In Katzetnik's rhetoric, on the other hand, there is an almost psychotic inability to separate the witness from the witnessed, the survivor from the dead. The intense optic relationship between Katzetnik and his fellow inmates, this awful, fateful, staring-contest is the locus where an oath is sworn, where those who died built a supernatural armor for Katzetnik to survive in, and in return he takes upon himself to re-present them in his chronicles and in his testimony. In Katzetnik's supernatural tale of survival there is a complete reversal of the power-relations established in Hausner's opening address: in Hausner's account it is only the existence of a Jewish state, complete with a secret service to locate Eichmann and abduct him, and a judiciary branch to prosecute and convict him, which empowers the dead:
“I am proud of the fact that the day has come when a man of Israel can speak the language of justice to a captured evildoer. Here in this state, we do not speak to him with pleading and importunity…[h]ere law and justice prevail. In this period of the return of the exiles of Judea and Jerusalem, justice is being done here."
In Katzetnik's account, on the other hand, it is the dead themselves who are the all-powerful agents, without which Katzetnik would not have survived. And their power is not the military prowess and bravery of the partisans in the woods, or of the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto, whose heroism Hausner was ever happy to mention. No, the power of the dead, bequeathed to Katzetnik, is the power of storytelling itself, because if Katzetnik is "able to stand [here] today and relate the events within that planet [Auschwitz]… [It] is due to the oath [he] sworn to them there. They gave [him] this strength".
Finally, while Hausner's interpretation of the Holocaust fits neatly in, and validates, the Zionist narrative, Katzetnik does not seem to assign any specific political meaning to his fellow inmates' death. He wants to tell their story, of course, but his testimony lacks – or never reaches – a moral. Katzetnik's dead do not talk, they do not cry – they only stare. It seems that while Haunser's re-presentation of the dead is a teleological one, working towards a conviction and a conclusion, Katzetnik's re-presentation is a purely ontological one, where language is not a moralistic vehicle, but a stage on which the dead can re-appear, for a brief spell, in the present.
I would like to argue, in accordance with the analysis above, that Katzetnik's way of speaking for the dead was unacceptable, perhaps unheard of, in the context of the Eichmann trial. The trial has afforded the Israelis, as a society, the beginning of a long, interminable process of coming to terms with the event called the Holocaust. But this reckoning could be accomplished only after the Nazi devil was captured by "our brave boys" and put in a glass box, like an exotic animal from South America, for everyone to come and see. To put it more plainly, it was exactly the capture and prosecution of Eichmann, this daring display of cunning and sovereignty, which allowed the Israeli society, the self-proclaimed opposite of the passive Diaspora, to face the decimation of that very same Diaspora. In that context, Katzetnik's out-worldly reversal of the power-relations between the living and the dead could not be – and indeed was not – acknowledged.
The Eichmann Trial might not have been a show trial, but it was certainly a display of statist power. Indeed, the inclusion of the Holocaust narrative, and of the survivors as its living proof, into the dominantly Sabra culture of the day could only be accomplished by establishing a clear demarcation between the stateless and powerless victims and their redeemer and avenger, the Jewish state. In that context, Katzetnik's tale of the supernatural powers of the Auschwitz dead seems like the raving of a deeply traumatized man. And yet, in David Grossman's groundbreaking novel See Under: Love, which was publish in Hebrew in 1985, there appears a fictional writer, Anschel Wasserman, who is, for some reason, unable to die at the hands of the camp commander, and who overcomes him exactly through the sheer power of storytelling. While the interesting comparison between the historical writer Katzetnik and the fictional writer Wasserman is beyond the scope of this work, it could be argued that Katzetnik's insistence that the most powerless, the Jewish homo sacer, possess an altogether different kind of power did not pass completely unheeded. Katzetnik's ethics, radical as they are, do constitute a foreshadowing of the new and unorthodox ways in which Grossman and others have chosen to tell the story of the Holocaust in the decades to come, out from under the shadow of the Eichmann trial.
 Haim Gouri, Facing the Glass Booth, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004), p. 2 (Italics in the original).
 See: Hanna Yablonka, The State of Israel Vs. Adolf Eichmann, (New York: Schocken Books, 2004), pp. 218-222; Idith Zertal, Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005)
 Katzetnik was the nom de plume of Yehiel Dinur (1909-2001), a Polish-Israeli writer and a survivor of Auschwitz. His books, House of Dolls, Salamandra and Piepel provided a detailed and unsparing description of Auschwitz, and were part of Israeli High-school curriculum for many years.
 Tom Segev, The Seventh Million, (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing, 1991) p.1 [Hebrew].
 Shoshana Felman, The Juridical Unconscious: Trials and Traumas in the Twentieth Century, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002).
 Felman, The Juridical Unconscious, p.152.
 Jean-François Lyotard, The Differend: Phrases in Dispute, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988).
 Gideon Hausner was the Attorney-General at the time of Eichmann's capture, and was appointed by the Justice Minister to head the prosecution team.
 Quoted in: Yechiel Szeintuch, "The Myth of the Salamander in the Work of Ka-Tzetnik", in Partial Answers, vol. 3, no. 1, (January 2005),
 Shoshana Felman, The Juridical Unconscious, p. 135.
 While not in the least suggesting that Katzetnik's performance was a pre-meditated one, it is worth noting that the Eichmann trial was not devoid of theatrics: it was held in a theatre, and was taped and filmed for wide audiences.5.
 Proceedings, p. 1237.
 Jean-François Lyotard, The Differend, p. 9.
 Proceedings, p. 1237.
 Thus Hausner addresses the "judges of Israel"; and while "Israel" is the name of the Jewish people as well as of the Jewish state, in this paragraph, juxtaposed near Treblinka and Auschwitz, those loci of annihilation, the place of Israel as a safe, sovereign haven is accentuated.
 Gideon Hausner, Justice in Jerusalem, (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 398.
 Proceedings, p. 1237.
 David Grossman, See Under: Love, (London: J. Cape: 1990).