Critical Evaluation

Badenheim 1939 was originally published as a story in a collection entitled Shanim Ve’shaot (years and hours), but it was not published as a separate novel until 1980, when it appeared both in Hebrew and in English translation. The Hebrew title, literally “Badenheim, Resort Town,” is less revealing of the novel’s meaning than the English title, which indicates that the story occurs after the Nazis had taken over Austria. Aharon Appelfeld based the book, he said, on his experiences as a young child at resorts to which his parents had taken him and on his personal knowledge of the Holocaust.

Appelfeld survived the Holocaust. At the age of eight, he escaped from the Transnistria labor camp in Ukraine and survived for three years in forests and villages. He said that his blond hair and ability to speak Ukrainian helped him avoid capture. In 1944, he was liberated by the Red Army, after which he worked for them as a messenger boy. After a stay in Italy, he went to Israel in 1946.

The novel has been called a fable, a parable, and a comedy. Appelfeld uses dramatic irony, satire, and allegory, and the novel is alternately dreamlike, surrealistic, and nightmarish. The Holocaust is never mentioned. Appelfeld assumes that the readers have the necessary historical knowledge to recognize that the Holocaust is part of the story. Many critics feel that the omission of explicit references to the Holocaust adds to the book’s power....

(The entire section is 562 words.)