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Aharon Appelfeld

Aharon Appelfeld

One of the most important writers in the state of Israel, Aharon Appelfeld (born 1932), wrote feelingly of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. He was a recipient of the Israel Prize for literature.

Aharon Appelfeld was born in 1932 into an assimilated Jewish family in Bukovnia, then part of Poland but later annexed to the U.S.S.R. (now Russia). His mother was killed during the Nazi occupation of Poland, and he was deported to a concentration camp. He managed to escape and joined the bands of children wandering in the forests of Poland. After three years he was picked up by the Soviet army in 1944 and worked in the kitchens in the Ukraine until the end of the war.

After 1945 Appelfeld traveled to Italy and finally went to settle in what is now Israel in 1946. Until then his main education had been in the concentration camp at Transniestra, and he did not go back to school, even in Israel. However, he studied Hebrew and Yiddish at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as well as serving in the Israeli army. He also taught at the Haim Greenberg College in Jerusalem.

Appelfeld studiously avoided any realistic depiction of the Holocaust in his writings, preferring allegory to the fictional representation of historical events. He did not consider it easy for a survivor such as himself to play the role of intermediary between contemporary readers and the actual events themselves. There is a danger of the writer hiding the appalling events from himself, though this in turn can lead to what Appelfeld saw as a "covenant of silence."

One way out of this dilemma taken by a number of Jewish writers has been to retell biblical tales which have experiences that parallel those of the Holocaust. Appelfeld, on the other hand, chose a more personal style based upon a concern for small details. He avoided grand themes, and even many Israeli readers found some of his writing frustrating for its apparent placelessness and unwillingness to engage directly with historical events. Appelfeld's main concerns were individual alienation and the struggle by survivors of the Holocaust to discover meaning in a world where it appeared to be impossible to banish guilt for having survived while so many fellow Jews perished.

The Jews depicted in Appelfeld's stories frequently appear oblivious or reluctant to confront the true reality of their situation. Badenheim 1939 (first published in English in 1980), for example, portrays a Jewish community in a town in Austria becoming the victims of an escalating anti-Semitism that finally leads to their deportation to Poland by the all-powerful Sanitation Department. Though outwardly life appears to continue as normally as possible, this is really a nightmare world that closely parallels that of Franz Kafka, whom Appelfeld saw as a close model for much of his writing. Even at the final denouement when the community is taken away in cattle trucks, one of the key figures in the story, Dr. Pappenheim, is left speculating that the dirty state of the coaches must mean that they were not going far.

Appelfeld tried to engage less the experience of the Holocaust itself than the social and moral climate among the European Jewish community accompanying its rise. While these Jews are seen as victims of this anti-Semitism, they are not entirely excused from moral guilt in failing to resist it. In The Age of Wonders (first English edition 1981) Appelfeld showed the refusal of a cultured literary Jewish family in Austria to face up to the true nature of their situation, with the recent arrival of the Ostjuden from Eastern Europe used as the explanation for their predicament. The novel presents a direct encounter between the past, narrated in the third person, and the present, in the first person, through the eyes of Bruno, the son who manages to survive. Within this framework, though, there occurs a vital literature of memory as the family life of assimilated European Jewry is recreated. The bright colors and happy laughter at the start of the novel give way to greyer tones as human relationships become progressively stretched.

Appelfeld's characters have difficulty with social relations. There is a strong suggestion of misogyny in his depiction of women, who are frequently seen as lacking moral depth and easily seduced by men. In a number of his stories the mother-son relationship is shown as the only one with any true meaning, whether it be Bruno and his mother in The Age of Wonders or Bartfuss and his mother in The Age of Bartfuss (first English edition 1988). Women are often shown as fighting unsuccessfully with their animal natures, such as the servant girl Louise in The Age of Wonders, or else remain rather placid and shadowy figures, such as Arna in The Land of Cattails (first English edition 1986).

Behind this mother-son relationship lies an unresolved quest for moral purity and social cohesion. The Land of Cattails can be read as usurping one of the major genres of European literature, that of the quest for adventure in the form of the romantic hero and his faithful lieutenant, whether this be Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Kipling's Kim and the llama, or even Batman and Robin. In The Land of Cattails the central figure is Rudi, whose mother, Toni, embarks on a quest from Austria back to the homeland of her parents in Eastern Europe. The absurdity of the quest is revealed by the fact that most Jews are trying to flee from the home that Toni has imagined as a rural idyll free from the conflict of Vienna. When she does finally reach her destination ahead of Rudi the Jews are about to be deported, and she disappears. Rudi is left at the end trying to make what meaning he can of his life in the context of the progressive round-up of the Eastern European Jewish population.

Appelfeld's writing ultimately fits into the literary tradition of the outsider trying to establish and defend his or her own area of moral freedom. The sad story of Bartfuss in The Age of Bartfuss is set in contemporary Israel. Bartfuss is the quintessential outsider, as in the fiction of Camus or Sartre. He has come to doubt the integrity of his wife, Rosa, whom he avoids as far as possible, and is estranged from his disabled daughter, Bridget, who, after first fearing her father, tries desperately to forge some form of relationship with him. Bartfuss has a few friends from the time he was in Italy before going to Israel, though some refuse to recognize him, finding the past too painful. The one woman, Sylvia, who does recognize him from the past, tragically dies.

Appelfeld continued to be a major literary figure into the 1990s with The Healer (1990) and The Railway (1991). His books about the Holocaust continued to have a worldwide audience. He made frequent trips abroad, with public appearances to promote his books and to share with others the Holocaust experience. The Immortal Bartfuss and The Healer were translated into Japanese in 1996. During the 1997 Prague Writers Festival he participated in public conversations with Robert Menasse on "The Disappearance of Centeral Europe".

Appelfeld felt himself to be a writer still searching for roots in modern Israel. He continued to experiment with a language, Hebrew, that he had to learn as an adult. His relationship with religion was only a tenuous one, since the world of the concentration camps seemed to be one of blind fate. None of the characters in his stories find any solace in religion, and the ultimate hope, Appelfeld has suggested, lies more in the building of tribal and communal bonds than in turning unquestioningly to a religious faith.

Further Reading

For more information on Aharon Appelfeld, see Esther Fuchs, Encounters with Israeli Authors (1982); Lawrence L. Langer, The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination (1982); Alan Mintz, Hurban: Responses to Catastrophe in Hebrew Literature (1984); and David C. Jacobson, Modern Midrash: The Retelling of Traditional Jewish Narratives by Twentieth Century Hebrew Writers (1987). More information on Appelfeld and other literary artists can be obtained from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. □

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Appelfeld, Aharon

Aharon Appelfeld, 1932–, Israeli novelist, b. Cernauţi (Czernowitz), Romania (now Chernivtsi, Ukraine). His mother was killed during the Holocaust, and he and his father were sent to a concentration camp. Appelfeld escaped at the age of eight, hid in Ukrainian forests, and later worked in Red Army field kitchens before immigrating to Palestine in 1947. After fighting in the war that followed Israel's independence, he attended Hebrew Univ., his first formal education since the first grade. He has since taught at several universities.

Appelfeld, who writes in Hebrew, is haunted by the Holocaust, but he hardly ever writes about the camp experience, instead concentrating on the event's historical margins. Typical of Appelfeld's work is his novel, Badenheim 1939 (1975, tr. 1980), which details the agreeable Austrian vacation of a Jewish family as they ignore the portents of impending tragedy. Among his other translated novels are The Age of Wonders (1978, tr. 1981), Tzili (1982, tr. 1983), To the Land of the Cattails (tr. 1986), Katerina (1989, tr. 1992), Iron Tracks (1991, tr. 1998), Laish (1994, tr. 2009), The Conversion (1998, tr. 1999), Blooms of Darkness (2006, tr. 2010), Until the Dawn's Light (1995, tr. 2011), and Suddenly, Love (2003, tr. 2014).

See his Beyond Despair: Three Lectures and a Conversation with Philip Roth (1994) and his memoir The Story of a Life (2004); studies by G. Ramras-Rauch (1994), Y. Shvarts (2001), and M. Brown, ed. (2002).

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Appelfeld, Aharon

APPELFELD, AHARON

APPELFELD, AHARON (1932– ), Hebrew writer. Appelfeld was born in the province of Bukovina, Romania, to a semi-assimilated Jewish family. In 1941, Germans, accompanied by Romanians, began the destruction of the Jews of Bukovina, killing Appelfeld's mother and grandmother and deporting Appelfeld to a concentration camp. He escaped and roamed through the Ukrainian countryside for years. In 1944, the Russian Army entered the Ukraine and Appelfeld joined them as a kitchen helper, immigrating to Israel after the war. A graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Appelfeld served as professor emeritus of Hebrew literature at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. While best known as a prolific novelist, his essays have been published in the New York Times, the New Yorker, and elsewhere.

At the core of Appelfeld's highly-stylized narratives is the probing of the psyche of characters in a pre- and post-Shoah world. His tales frequently depict fragmented, torn, and sometimes mute people in a state of quest. In his earlier tales, Appelfeld consciously suspended any historical framework, raising his work to a mythic, timeless level while only depicting the Shoah directly in his later works. Throughout, Appelfeld is fascinated by the notion of the Jewish tribe and its various manifestations – Orthodox and converted and particularly the assimilated Jews of Central Europe. Appelfeld's fiction frequently has an autobiographical tone. In Tzili (1983), he tells the story of a young girl who like himself spends years in the forest separated from her family while fleeing the enemy. Eventually, like Appelfeld, she joins the hordes of refugees in their journey towards safety. Appelfeld's characters are constantly on the move. Movement is the essence of their being. They are rootless and in a constant quest to repair and to heal. In doing so, Appelfeld has expanded the archetype of the Wandering Jew to include the post-Shoah world of the European wasteland. However, movement does not bring change, instead the Jew continues as an "Other," a stranger hovering like a shadow over an extinct reality. Europe in the post-Shoah period, as Appelfeld has said, is the largest cemetery in history.

Appelfeld's work can roughly be divided into three periods. In the 1960s, he published surreal short fiction with strong fantastic elements. This fiction consists of five books of short stories. Appelfeld made his mark in his second period with the novels Badenheim 1939 (1980) and Tor ha-Pela'ot ("Age of Wonders," 1978). In his third period, the novels of the 1990s and the first years of the new century, the actual Shoah is incorporated into his fiction.

While Appelfeld's narratives are often a fictional recasting of his own autobiography, the importance of the narrator as a chronicler and witness of events gains importance in his later work. His earlier protagonists were often devoid of memory and consequently of historical awareness. In his latest works, a sense of history, continuity, and self-awareness is more apparent. This is clear in the novels Katerina (1989) and Ad Alot ha-Shaḥar (1995). Until his third period, Appelfeld's stories were geographically situated far from the war and the camps. We encounter the camp for the first time overtly in The Iron Tracks, a modern picaresque parable, where Irwin Ziegelbaum (Irwin is Appelfeld's given name) recounts in the 1980s his 40 years of wandering in post-Shoah Europe. A survivor, he continues to move in trains, from south to north and back. Haunted by memories, he nevertheless visits all the stations of his life and those of his parents. He maintains a yearly cycle, like the reading of the Torah in weekly portions, consisting of 22 stations parallel to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. On his way, he redeems various Jewish holy artifacts and fulfills a personal quest by killing the German officer who murdered his parents. In a way Appelfeld transcends the historical limitations of the Holocaust. In a 1986 interview, he said: "I write Jewish stories, but I don't accept the label Holocaust writer. My themes are the uprooted, orphans, the war." An heir to *Kafka, *Celan, *Proust, and *Buber, Appelfeld's voice is at once immediate and removed, historical and transcendent, realistic and postmodern, but always essential.

Appelfeld was awarded the Israel Prize in 1983. Many of his works have been translated into English, including To the Land of the Reeds (1986), Badenheim 1939 (1980), Beyond Despair (1993), The Immortal Bartfuss (1988), For Every Sin (1989), Katerina (1992), The Retreat (1984), Age of Wonders (1981), The Healer (1990), The Iron Tracks (1998), Tzili (1983), Unto the Soul (1994), Lost (1998), A Table for One (with drawings by Meir Appelfeld, 2004). Stories and novellas are included in the following English-language anthologies: G. Ramras-Rauch and J. Michman-Melkman (eds.), Facing the Holocaust (1985), G. Abramson (ed.), The Oxford Book of Hebrew Short Stories (1996), I. Stavans (ed.), The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories (1998), L. Raphael and M.L. Raphael (eds.), When Night Fell: An Anthology of Holocaust Short Stories (1999), G. Shaked (ed.), Six Israeli Novellas (1999). Mention should be made also of the following English books: E. Sicher, Holocaust Novelists (2004), M. Brown and S. Horowitz, Encounter with Aharon Appelfeld (2003), and Philip Roth, Shop Talk: A Writer and His Colleagues and Their Work (2001).

For detailed information concerning translations into various languages see the ithl website at www.ithl.org.il

bibliography:

G. Ramras-Rauch, Aharon Appelfeld: The Holocaust and Beyond (1994); Y. Schwartz, Aharon Appelfeld: From Individual Lament to Tribal Eternity (Heb., 1996; Eng., 2001); R. Furstenberg, "A. Appelfeld and Holocaust Literature," in: Jewish Book Annual, 42 (1984), 91–106; M. Wohlgelernter, "A. Appelfeld: Between Oblivion and Awakening," in: Tradition, 35:3 (2001), 6–19; R. Wisse, "A. Appelfeld: Survivor," in: Commentary, 76:2 (1983), 73–76; S. DeKoven Ezrahi, "A. Appelfeld: The Search for a Language," in: Studies in Contemporary Jewry, 1 (1984), 366–80; G. Shaked, "Appelfeld and His Times," in: Hebrew Studies, 36 (1995), 87–100; S. Nash, "Critical Reappraisals of A. Appelfeld," in: Prooftexts, 22:3 (2002), 334–54; M.A. Bernstein, "Foregone Conclusions: Narrating the Fate of Austro-German Jewry," in: Modernism / Modernity, 1:1 (1994), 57–79; L. Yudkin, "Is A. Appelfeld a Holocaust Writer?" in: The Holocaust and the Text (2000), 142–58; E. Miller Budick, "Literature, Ideology and the Measure of Moral Freedom: The Case of A. Appelfeld's 'Badenheim,' " in: Modern Language Quarterly, 60:2 (1999), 223–49.

[Gila Ramras-Rauch (2nd ed.)]

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Appelfeld, Aharon

APPELFELD, Aharon

Nationality: Israeli (originally Romanian: immigrated to Palestine, 1946). Born: Czernovitz, Bukovina, 1932. Education: After first grade deported to a concentration camp in Transnistria; Hebrew University, Jerusalem, late 1940s. Military Service: Israeli Army. Family: Married; two sons and one daughter. Career: Liberated by the Russian army, 1944, and worked as a kitchen helper before emigrating. Professor of Hebrew literature, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel. Visiting fellowship for Israeli writers, St. Cross College, Oxford University, 1967-68; visiting professor: Boston University, Brandeis University, and Yale University; visiting scholar, Harvard University. Awards: Youth Aliyah prize; twice recipient of the Anne Frank Prize; Milo prize; Jerusalem prize; Prime Minister's prize for creative writing, 1969; Brenner prize, 1975; Israel prize, 1983; Present Tense Award for fiction, 1985, for Tzili: The Story of a Life; H. H. Wingate literary award, 1987, 1989; National Jewish book award for fiction, Jewish Book Council, 1989, for The Immortal Bartfuss; Bialik prize; Harold U. Ribelow prize. Agent: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 91 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7TA, England.

Publications

Novels

Bekumat hakark'a [At Ground Level]. 1968.

Ha-or veha-kutonet [The Skin and the Gown]. 1971.

Ke'ishon h'ayin [As an Apple of His Eye]. 1972.

Shanim vesha'ot [Years and Hours] (two novellas). 1975.

Badenheim 'ir nofesh (novella). 1975; as Badenheim 1939, 1980.

Tor hapelaot (novella). 1978; as The Age of Wonders, 1981.

Ketonet veha-pasim [The Shirt and the Stripes]. 1983; as Tzili: The Story of a Life, 1983.

Michvat ha'or [Searing Light]. 1980.

Ha 'pisgah [The Summit]. 1982; as The Retreat, 1984.

El eretz hagomé (novella). Translated as To the Land of the Cattails, 1986; as To the Land of the Reeds, 1987.

Ritspat esh [Tongue of Fire]. 1988.

Bartfus ben ha-almavet (novella). As The Immortal Bartfuss, 1988.

Al kol hapesha'im. Translated as For Every Sin, 1989.

Ba'et uve'onah achat [At One and the Same Time]. 1985; asThe Healer, 1990.

Katerinah. 1989; as Katerina, 1992.

Mesilat barzel. 1991; as The Iron Tracks, 1998.

Ad nefesh. Translated as Unto the Soul, 1994.

Laish. 1994.

'Ad she-ya'aleh 'amud ha-shahar [Until the Dawn's Light].1995.

Mikhreh ha-kerah [Ice Mine]. 1997.

Timyon [Abyss]. 1993; as The Conversion, 1998.

Kol asher ahavti [All That I Have Loved]. 1999.

Masa' el ha-horef [Journey into Winter]. 2000.

Short Stories

Ashan [Smoke]. 1962.

Ba-gai ha-poreh [In the Fertile Valley]. 1963.

Kafor al ha'aretz [Frost on the Land]. 1965.

In The Wilderness. 1965.

Be-komat ha-karka [On the Ground Floor]. 1968.

Now, with David Avidan, Aharon Appelfeld, and Itzhak Orpaz, edited by Gabriel Moked (English translations). 1969.

Hamishah sipurim. 1969.

Adne ha-nahar [Pillars of the River]. 1971.

Keme'ah edim: Mivhar [Like a Hundred Witnesses: A Selection]. 1975.

Other

Masot be-guf rishon [Essays in First-Person]. 1979.

Writing and the Holocaust, edited by Berel Lang. 1988.

Beyond Despair: Three Lectures and a Conversation with Philip Roth (translation). 1994.

Sipur hayim [Story of a Life] (memoir) 1999.

Editor, Me-'olamo shel Rabi Nahman mi-Braslav. 1970; asFrom the World of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, 1973.

*

Critical Studies:

"Tzili: Female Adolescence and the Holocaust in the Fiction of Aharon Appelfeld" by Naomi B. Sokoloff, in Gender and Text in Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Literature, edited by Sokoloff, Anne Lapidus Lerner, and Anita Norich, 1992; "Aharon Appelfeld's For Every Sin : The Jewish Legacy after the Holocaust" by Avraham Balaban, in Hebrew Literature in the Wake of the Holocaust, edited by Leon I. Yudkin, 1993; Aharon Appelfeld: The Holocaust and Beyond, 1994, and "Aharon Appelfeld: A Hundred Years of Jewish Solitude," in World Literature Today, 72(3), Summer 1998, pp. 493-500, both by Gila Ramras-Rauch; Foregone Conclusions: Against Apocalyptic History by Michael André Bernstein, 1994; "Aharon Appelfeld: On the Brink of the Void" by Norma Rosen, in Congress Monthly, 61(5), September 1994, p. 8; "Appelfeld and His Times: Transformations of Ahashveros, the Eternal Wandering Jew" by Gershon Shaked, in Hebrew Studies: A Journal Devoted to Hebrew Language and Literature, 36, 1995, p. 87-100; "Literature, Ideology, and the Measure of Moral Freedom: The Case of Aharon Appelfeld's Badenhaim 'ir nofesh " by Emily Miller Budick, in Modern Language Quarterly, 60(2), June 1999, pp. 223-49; "Is Aharon Appelfeld a Holocaust Writer?" by Leon I. Yudkin, in The Holocaust and the Text: Speaking the Unspeakable, edited by Andrew Leak and George Paizis, 2000; Aharon Appelfeld: From Individual Lament to Tribal Eternity by Yigal Shvartz, 2001.

* * *

Aharon Appelfeld's fiction focuses on the assimilated Jew living in Europe just before the Holocaust or on the Jew in Israel in the years following the catastrophe. His characters, the men, women, and children, are either extensions of Appelfeld himself or reflections of his experiences as a child from a highly assimilated, urbane family. His grandparents, who spoke Yiddish and with whom he was quite close, were very observant, while his parents, to the disappointment of his grandparents, were highly assimilated and spoke German and took pride in German culture. All of his villages are Drajinetz, where he spent most of his eight and a half years before the Nazis occupied Bukovina, and his cities are all Czernovitz, the family's weekend and holiday destination. In a November 1998 New Yorker article he described his visit to the tiny village of his childhood, "from which [he] draws and draws, and it seems that there is no end to its waters." His writing is quiet but intense, concise, and controlled, without bitterness or accusation.

Appelfeld's life was transformed in June 1941 when the Germans and the Romanians invaded Bukovina and murdered most of the inhabitants, including his mother and grandmother. He and his father escaped to the Czernovitz ghetto, from which they were later sent to Transnistria to die. He was separated from his father and escaped to the forests, where he lived by instinct, wandering for three years, a frightened but determined young child who survived by running errands for prostitutes and horse thieves. In addition to his mother tongues of German, Yiddish, Ruthenian, and Romanian, he learned to speak the Ukrainian of the Soviet soldiers for whom he became a kitchen worker. In 1946 he went to Italy with a band of children like him and from there boarded an illegal ship to Palestine. All of these experiences found expression in his novels.

Appelfeld's works are about the war, yet none, except for Tzili: The Story of a Life, refers to his experiences as a child caught in the Nazi grip. In this, his most autobiographical work, he is indirect and writes in a girl's voice to avoid chronicling his own experiences, thereby sacrificing imagination for reportage. He writes about the victims, seeking to reveal their inner life and the suffering he shares with other survivors. His most enduring influence is Franz Kafka, whose theme of alienation, according to Appelfeld, marked the twentieth century. His mentors in Israel led him to Max Brod, Kafka's close friend, and others who encouraged and supported his writing. Like Kafka, Appelfeld is preoccupied with the isolated individual who is unable to find comfort and validation from society. In his prewar novels his characters are too rational to anticipate the oncoming catastrophe. Often his characters are unaware of their purpose as survivors. They act and react in sincere bewilderment. They are uneasy with themselves or with others and recall their prewar years with embarrassment for their Jewishness and, paradoxically, for their futile attempts at assimilation, when they sought to shed their origins as well as their overt habits. Although he is not observant, his Jewishness is a curious blend of deep spirituality, substantial familiarity with the Torah, and strong memories of the experience of assimilation, strands of which are richly portrayed in his characters.

The winner of the prestigious Israel Prize in 1983 and of numerous other awards since then, Appelfeld has had a distinguished career as a professor of literature at Ben Gurion University, lecturer at Beer Sheva University, and visiting professor in the United States and Europe. Writing in Hebrew, his adopted tongue and his first literary tongue, he works carefully and sparsely, taking about one and a half years to write each novel, which he then puts aside for review four or five years later. In his ironic, wry style, characteristic of his fiction, he has described his 30 books as works about "one hundred years of Jewish loneliness and isolation." He added, "I'm probably among the last living 'Jewish writers,' that is, one who writes for Jews, about Jews." Sincerely modest, he does not comment on his unique place in Jewish literature, although his novels, most of which have been called "small masterpieces" by the critics, have presented a remarkable and unforgettable portrayal of the impact of the Holocaust on East European Jewry and on postwar Palestine.

—Myrna Goldenberg

See the essays on Badenheim 1939, The Immortal Bartfuss, The Retreat, and Tzili: The Story of a Life.

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Appelfeld, Aharon

APPELFELD, Aharon

Nationality: Israeli. Born: Czernowitz, Bukovina, in 1932. Military Career: Served in Israeli army. Career: Held in Transnistria concentration camp, Romania, for three years during World War II; escaped, wandered for several years, hiding in the Ukrainian countryside and then joining the Russian army; arrived in Palestine, 1947; visiting fellowship for Israeli Writers, St. Cross College, Oxford University, 1967-68; visiting lecturer, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Oxford University, and Cambridge University, 1984. Currently lecturer in Hebrew literature, Be'er Shev'a University. Awards: Youth Aliyah prize; Prime Minister's prize for creative writing, 1969; Anne Frank literary prize (twice); Brenner prize, 1975; Milo prize; Israel prize, 1983; Jerusalem prize; H. H. Wingate literary award, 1987, 1989.

Publications

Short Stories

Ashan [Smoke]. 1962; translated as "Ashan," in In the Wilderness, 1965.

Bagay haporeh [In the Fertile Valley]. 1964; translated as "Bagay haporeh," in In the Wilderness, 1965.

In the Wilderness. 1965.

Chamishah sipurim [Five Stories]. 1969-70.

Keme'ah edim: mivchar [Like a Hundred Witnesses: A Selection]. 1975.

Tor hapela'ot (novella). 1978; as The Age of Wonders, 1981.

Badenheim, ir nofesh (novella). 1979; as Badenheim 1939, 1980.

To the Land of the Cattails (novella). 1986; as To the Land of the Reeds, 1987.

Bartfus ben ha'almavet (novella). As The Immortal Bartfuss, 1988.

Novels

Kafor al ha'aretz [Frost on the Land]. 1965.

Bekumat hakark'a [At Ground Level]. 1968.

Ha'or vehakutonet [The Skin and the Gown]. 1971.

Adoni hanahar [My Master the River]. 1971.

Ke'ishon ha'ayin [Like the Pupil of an Eye]. 1972.

Shanim vesha'ot [Years and Hours]. 1974-75.

Michvat ha'or [A Burn on the Skin]. 1980.

Tzili, the Story of a Life. 1983.

Hakutonet vehapasim [The Shirt and the Stripes]. 1983.

The Retreat. 1984.

Ba'et uve'onah achat [At One and the Same Time]. 1985; as The Healer, 1990.

Ritspat esh [Tongue of Fire]. 1988.

Al kol hapesha'im. As For Every Sin, 1989.

Katerinah. 1989; as Katerina, 1992.

Mesilat barzel [The Railway]. 1991.

Other

Mas'ot beguf rish'on [Essays in First-Person]. 1979.

Writing and the Holocaust. 1988.

Editor, From the World of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav. 1973.

*

Critical Studies:

"The Shirt and the Stripes" by Rochelle Furstenberg, in Modern Hebrew Literature 9(1-2), 1983; "Appelfeld, Survivor" by Ruth R. Wisse, in Commentary 75(8), 1983; "Appelfeld: The Search for a Language" by Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, in Studies in Contemporary Jewry, 1, 1984; "Applefeld [sic] and Affirmation," in Ariel 61, 1985, and "Appelfeld: Not to the Left, Not to the Right" in We Are All Close: Conversations with Israeli Writers, 1989, both by Chaim Chertok; "Appelfeld and the Uses of Language and Silence" by Lawrence Langer, in Remembering the Future, 1989; "Literary Device Used for Effects of Subtlety and Restraint in an Emotion-Loaded Narrative Text: 'The Burn of Light' by Appelfeld" by Rina Dudai, in Hebrew Linguistics, January 1990; "Impossible Mourning: Two Attempts to Remember Annihilation" by James Hatley, in Centennial Review 35(3), 1990; What Is Jewish in Jewish Literature? A Symposium with Israeli Writers Aharon Appelfeld and Yoav Elstein edited by Yoav Elstein and Sacvan Bercovitch, 1993; Aharon Appelfeld: The Holocaust and Beyond by Gilah Ramraz-Ráukh, 1994.

* * *

Aharon Appelfeld is an Israeli writer who has gone against the tide throughout his career. While the general ethos of modern Israeli writing calls upon authors to look forward and to base their fiction in the present, Appelfeld continually returns to and recreates his past, the past of Israel and the world of pre-Holocaust European Jewry. His success in doing this has led A. B. Yehoshua to refer to him as a "world writer," that is, as one who creates not just characters but also a whole universe. Appelfeld never addresses the Holocaust directly, letting it hover in the background, where it casts its shadows on the lives of his characters.

This use of the Holocaust as part of the background allows Appelfeld to create a pervading sense of irony throughout his works. The hollow pretensions and self-delusion of his characters are tragically highlighted by the reality of looming disaster. The Jews' futile attempts to assimilate by trying to act like Gentile intellectuals are revealed for the desperate, misguided gestures they are in the light of our retrospective knowledge of their future.

Badenheim 1939 was originally published in Hebrew as Badenheim, ir nofesh, without a date in the title, a more appropriate rendering of the sense Appelfeld wants to convey of the characters' oblivion to the year's significance. A group of wealthy Jews at a health resort engage in social rituals and ignore the gathering storm around them. When several Ostjuden (eastern Jews) are transported there as part of the displacement process, they use their energy to attack and disparage the newcomers, unable to recognize their common plight and enemy.

Similar themes appear in "The Retreat," which begins in pre-Holocaust Austria and ends in a Mann-like sanitarium where the characters have tried to find their retreat in self-hatred and where they learn to imitate the behavior of the surrounding peasants in an attempt to lose their separate identity. As the power of the Nazis begins to encroach upon their hideout, the noose tightens, and they are forced to make dangerous sorties for provisions, during which they are regularly attacked and beaten by the local peasants. Paradoxically, it is at this point that they begin to discover some kind of communal feeling and sense of mutual responsibility, taking turns venturing out and helping each other when they are hurt. It is one of Appelfeld's recurring ironies that his characters regain their sense of common identity and unity only at the brink after having been pushed to the utmost extremity.

The Age of Wonders (Tor hapela'ot) also shows the irony and tragedy of attempts at assimilation. The protagonist is a 12-year-old boy whose father, an anti-Semitic writer who abandons the family, is deported to Theriesenstadt, where he goes mad and dies. His mother finds a renewed sense of her Jewish identity through community acts and charity. As in most of Appelfeld's work, trains appear as sinister symbols. At the end of Badenheim 1939, for example, the characters catastrophically misjudge the railway cars at the end of the book, reasoning that, since they are in such bad condition, they do not have far to go.

To the Land of the Cattails is the story of a mother and the son she takes on a journey back to the land of her—and Appelfeld's—roots in Bukovina. The trip has an eerie quality for readers who know that the two are blindly walking straight into the inferno of the Holocaust. The final scene takes place at a railway station. Although the mother is saved, the unknowing boy waits with a girl for the train that will carry them to their death.

Though Appelfeld's artistic mission is to re-create the world of pre-Holocaust Europe, he also deals with the many issues arising out of survival of the genocide. The protagonist of The Immortal Bartfuss is a survivor, but he has been unable to reconstruct a meaningful or peaceful life. In a reversal of Appelfeld's theme of the value of Tzdkh (charity), he devotes his energy to forcing gifts and charity on people. The protagonist is called immortal because life and death have become almost indistinguishable for him. He is living like one who is dead, estranged from his family, hiding money from his wife, unable to break the silence he imposed on himself during his smuggling days in Italy. Bartfuss's empty life reflects Appelfeld's belief that bandages do not help the Holocaust survivor, not even, as he has said, "a bandage such as the Jewish state." People expect survivors to teach them about life, but these demands for meaning are too much for them to bear, and their internal feelings of guilt condemn them to a kind of living death.

What Appelfeld achieves in his writing is the reevocation of the lost Jews of Europe and the re-creation of the vanished world of his youth. He does so with lyric intensity, drawing a place and time forever poised on the edge of annihilation. His works pay homage to these human beings as they unknowingly face catastrophe.

—Carla N. Spivack

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