Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Badenheim (BAH-dehn-him). Fictitious Austrian resort town based on real Austrian resorts that Aharon Appelfeld and his family visited during the late 1930’s. The entire novel is set in and around Badenheim. The main attraction at this beautiful vacation resort is its music festival.

The original Hebrew title of the novel, which translates as “Badenheim, resort town,” emphasizes place even more than the book’s English title. By adding a date, the English title clearly sets the story in the context of the Holocaust.


Hotel. Huge Badenheim building adjoined by the spacious, beautiful Luxembourg Gardens. The clientele of the hotel are entirely Jewish, and most of its workers are Jews from Austria and Poland.

The novel starts at the beginning of the resort season, early spring. As the novel progresses, the Sanitation Department erects fences, puts out rolls of barbed wire, and erects cement pillars enclosing the hotel and its gardens and thus enclosing the Jews. Although to the reader, the nature of the changes the Sanitation Department makes clearly relate the setting of the story to the Holocaust, the visitors and workers in the hotel blissfully misinterpret what is happening; they see the changes as a sign of the Sanitation Department’s efficiency. They eat, drink, listen to music, and enjoy themselves.

As the seasons progress, the abundance of the spring season gives...

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Badenheim 1939 Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Appelfeld, Aharon. The Story of a Life: A Memoir. Translated by Aloma Halter. New York: Schocken Books, 2004.

Bernstein, Michael André. Foregone Conclusions: Against Apocalyptic History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Describes the way in which three historical periods—Austria before the Nazi rule, Austria during the Nazi rule, and the world after the Holocaust—are interrelated simultaneously in the novel.

Brown, Michael, and Sara R. Horowitz, eds. Encounter with Aharon Appelfeld. Oakville, Ont.: Mosaic Press, 2003.

Budick, Emily Miller. Aharon Appelfeld’s Fiction: Acknowledging the Holocaust. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.

Coffin, Edna Amir. “Appelfeld’s Exceptional Universe: Harmony out of Chaos.” Hebrew Studies 24 (1983): 85-98.

Langer, Lawrence L. “Aharon Appelfeld and the Uses of Language and Silence.” In Remembering for the Future, edited by Yehuda Bauer et al. 3 vols. Elmsford, N.Y.: Pergamon Press, 1989. Discusses Appelfeld’s irony and ambiguity. The set also includes articles on Aharon Appelfeld by Nurit Govrin, A. Komem, Gila Ramraz-Raukh, and Lea Hamaoui.

Ramraz-Ra’ukh, Gilah. Aharon Appelfeld: The Holocaust and Beyond. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. Speaks of the novel’s “cold horror.” Sees the end as having been foreshadowed in the beginning.

Roth, Philip. “A Conversation with Philip Roth.” In Beyond Despair, by Aharon Appelfeld, translated by Jeffrey M. Green. New York: Fromm International, 1994. First published in The New York Review of Books, February 28, 1988. Philip Roth, the American novelist, talks with Appelfeld about his life and works. Roth calls Badenheim 1939 “vexing.” The interview gives insight into the novel’s autobiographical and historical background.

Schwartz, Yigal. Aharon Appelfeld: From Individual Lament to Tribal Eternity. Translated by Jeffrey M. Green. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for Brandeis University.

Wisse, Ruth R. “Aharon Appelfeld, Survivor.” Commentary 76, no. 2 (August, 1983): 73-76. Discerns a “mood of predestination” in the novel. Emphasizes the self-deception of many of the characters.