Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Badenheim 1939 is a 1978 novel by Israeli writer Aharon Appelfeld. It is the fictional story of Jews attending an arts festival in an Austrian town prior to the start of the Holocaust.
The story's main character and chief protagonist is the festival's organizer, Dr. Pappenheim. Pappenheim is consummately cheerful and is able to find increasingly outrageous excuses for the foreshadowing that occurs throughout the story. Indeed, most of the characters in Badenheim 1939 share a common lack of understanding as to the coming events; this is presented by Appelfeld as disbelieving indifference rather than ignorance. For instance, as barbed wire begins to appear and the sanitation department starts requiring registration of the town's inhabitants, Pappenheim continues as if nothing significant is happening.
Trude is another principal character and is the first one to which the reader is introduced when she is found delirious in bed. She is the wife of Martin, the pharmacist, who is self-effacing and dedicated to Trude's welfare.
Professor Fussholdt is a holiday-maker in the town who has been working on a book. He is presented as hostile to "everything considered Jewish" but, once his work is complete, "the bitterness and mockery ... [was] buried in his book," and his attitude transforms. Fussholdt is married to Mitzi, who is presented as vain and vapid, described at one point like "an empty vessel."
Other characters in the novel include Leon Samitzky, Frau Zauberbilt, Dr. Schutz, Karl, and Lotte, plus a large number of minor characters in the form of the artists and musicians performing at the festival.