In early spring, the impresario Dr. Pappenheim returns to the Austrian resort town of Badenheim. As usual, he worries whether the performers, especially Mandelbaum, will appear as promised, and whether the festival will be successful. Soon, guests begin to arrive. To Trude, the pharmacist’s wife, they look pale, like patients in a sanatorium. To her, everything looks “poisoned and diseased.”
The next day, a sanitation department inspector visits the pharmacy. Although Martin, the pharmacist, does not know why the inspector is there, he feels guilty. All over Badenheim, investigators from the sanitation department measure things, erect fences, and put up flags. Porters unfold rolls of barbed wire and put up cement pillars. People take off winter clothes and put on sportswear.
At April’s end, the twins, who recite from the works of Rainer Maria Rilke, arrive. Dr. Shutz begins following a schoolgirl. Frau Zauberblit, who has left a tubercular sanatorium, talks with Leon Samitzky, a musician who is homesick for Poland. Professor Fussholdt stays in his room reading proofs of his latest book while his wife sunbathes and hunts for amorous adventures. The twins rehearse. Dr. Pappenheim receives a telegram announcing that Mandelbaum is ill and will not arrive.
In mid-May, an announcement demands that all Jewish citizens register with the sanitation department before the end of the month. A rumor circulates that they are being sent to Poland. Samitzky is happy to be going to Poland. Dr. Pappenheim, however, explains that the sanitation department makes the guests write their names in its “Golden Book” because it wants a record of its attractiveness to tourists. Dr. Pappenheim, Frau Zauberblit, and Samitzky register. Frau Zauberblit praises the sanitation department for “order and beauty.”
The sanitation department begins to look like a travel agency. Its posters carry such slogans as “Labor Is Our Life” and “The Air in Poland Is Fresher.” The department stays open at night. The band conductor carries his baptismal certificates in his pocket. Dr. Pappenheim tells him that he can “join the Jewish order.” When the conductor says that he does not believe in religion, Dr. Pappenheim invites him to become “a Jew without religion.”
Frau Zauberblit’s daughter arrives with a document stating that her mother renounces her maternal rights; Frau Zauberblit signs it and her daughter leaves. That evening, the twins perform. They recite poems about death. They seem to have “visited hell,” of which they are “no longer afraid.”
The long-awaited child prodigy arrives. Because his name is not on the hotel register, the doorman will not admit him. Dr. Pappenheim tells the doorman to let him in, asking whether he cannot see that the prodigy is a Jew. The half-Jewish waitress asks Samitzky if she can come to Poland too, although she is not fully Jewish. Samitzky replies that even though both his parents converted to Christianity, he will be going.
The sanitation department is now “the center,” and it spreads its nets in every direction. A barrier is erected to keep people from leaving or entering Badenheim. Milk is...
(The entire section is 1312 words.)