Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Aharon Appelfeld is a survivor of the Holocaust whose writing is stamped by a melancholy sense of the doom he managed to elude. He writes in Hebrew, but many of his novels and short stories have been translated into English. His writing has earned for him a significant and distinctive place in contemporary fiction. None of his texts directly alludes to the Holocaust’s appalling reality of suffering and deaths, but the horrors to come (or remembered) are a constant flickering on the horizon of his muted, compressed, austerely understated perspective.
Appelfeld’s hometown of Czernowitz, in the province of Bukovina, had belonged to the sprawling Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, when it became part of the newly created nation of Romania; it is now in Ukraine. Appelfeld was seven years old when German troops occupied Czernowitz. His mother was killed, and he and his father were transported to Ukraine and separately interned. In 1941, Appelfeld managed to escape from his camp. Being blond and able to speak Ukrainian, he was able to hide his Jewish identity from the Germans and anti-Semitic Ukrainian peasants. For three years he worked as a shepherd and farmhand, associating mostly with horse thieves and prostitutes. After the armistice, he joined a group of boys who wandered to southern Italy and from there migrated to British-mandate Palestine in 1946. There he worked on a farm in the mornings and learned Hebrew in the afternoons. From 1948 to 1950, he served in the Israeli army.
In 1950, Appelfeld passed the matriculation examination for admission to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. After obtaining his B.A. and M.A. degrees, he studied briefly in Zurich and Oxford but then returned to Israel, where he eventually taught Jewish literature at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba. He married an Argentine-born woman, and they had two sons and one daughter. In 1960, he chanced to see his father’s name on a list of immigrants due to arrive from Eastern Europe, and they were reunited.
In the late 1950’s, Appelfeld began to write—first poems, then stories, and finally short novels. It took him a long time to find his natural voice and subject matter. In a revealing interview with the American author Philip Roth, Appelfeld noted that Franz Kafka’s works, which he had discovered in the 1950’s, had influenced him more deeply than those of any other writer. The best known of Appelfeld’s translated novels is the first one published in the United States, Badenheim 1939, whose Hebrew title could more literally be translated as “Badenheim, resort town.” Badenheim is a Jewish spa near Vienna, where, in the summer of 1939, the...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Aharon Appelfeld was born in Czernowitz, Bukovina, Romania, in 1932, into an assimilated Jewish family whose language of choice was German. When Appelfeld was eight, he and his family were removed from their environment. His mother was taken by the Nazis, and he was separated from the rest of his family and shipped to a concentration camp in Transnistria, from which he escaped. After three perilous years of wandering through the forests of Eastern Europe with temporary stays with various refugees along the way, he joined the Russian army in 1944, at age eleven, in the Ukraine as a field cook. At twelve, Appelfeld joined a gang of war orphans who made their way south, living off the land. He was the youngest member and was to remain in touch with others of the gang. Upon their arrival in Italy, the gang members were befriended by a priest and lived for a time at his church, singing in the choir. After this interlude, the gang went on to Naples, where they met a Youth Aliya group and were persuaded to go to Israel. Appelfeld has related that the gang’s last night in Naples was spent at a brothel, where he sat up all night in a chair.
After his arrival in Israel in 1947, Appelfeld began writing poetry in his newly acquired language, Hebrew. The Jerusalem editor to whom he sent his poetry corrected it and rejected it for three years, after which time the editor instructed the poet not to send him any more poetry until he learned to write Hebrew. Ten years later, in 1960, Appelfeld has noted, he received an award for his poetry, the award named after the same editor, who had recently died.
In 1962, Appelfeld’s first short-story collection was published by an eccentric publisher who had not read the material but liked the author’s looks. The book, although not distributed to bookstores initially, enjoyed critical acclaim and started Appelfeld’s literary career as a short-story writer and novelist. A graduate of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Appelfeld teaches Hebrew literature at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, Israel, and makes his home in a suburb of Jerusalem.
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Aharon (also rendered “Aron”) Appelfeld was born on February 16, 1932, in Czernowitz, Romania, which is now Chernovtsy, Ukraine. During the period between the two world wars, most of the Jews in his birthplace were assimilated. The Appelfeld family spoke German and made little effort to preserve their Jewish identity.
Czernowitz was overrun by German forces in 1939. Before long, the occupying intruders killed Appelfeld’s mother. The boy and his father, along with other members of his family, soon were sent to the Ukraine, where father and son were interned separately in the Transnistria concentration camp. The train on which the frightened, blond-haired boy was taken to Transnistria was to become a pervasive symbol in Appelfeld’s writing. Alone and too young to understand the political implications of his displacement, Appelfeld was sucked into the forbidding freight car like a grain of wheat, a symbol that pervades his later writing, obviously reflecting the helplessness the boy felt at having his life snatched away from him for reasons that he failed to comprehend, a helpless object in the hands of a malevolent government.
For the next three years, Appelfeld lived at the whim of his captors in a setting in which people dislocated solely on the basis of their ethnicity were robbed of their dignity, their self-determination, and, in many cases, their lives. The sensitive youth saw how cheap life became in such situations. Yet he thought deeply about how his people could have come to such a pass in a country that was seemingly civilized. Such musing became the basis for his later writing about how European Jews, by encouraging assimilation and by acceding without protest to the growing inroads the government was making upon them, probably were unwitting parties to their own destruction.
When Appelfeld escaped from Transnistria in 1943, he did not emerge into a welcoming society. The Ukrainian peasants among whom he found himself were as anti-Semitic as the Nazis who controlled the area....
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
With masterful restraint, Aharon Appelfeld works consistently to make his point: The Holocaust was as much attributable to Jewish passivity as it was to fascist activism. He presents the various faces of self-hatred that afflicted many European Jews during the rise of Nazism.
Jews of the period blinded themselves to such discomfiting indignities as forced registration with the authorities and mandatory relocations, which resulted in the deportation of millions of Jews to concentration camps. They refused to admit the realities that surrounded them, and by the time that they were conscious of the implications of these realities, it was too late for them to save themselves.