Aharon Appelfeld

Aharon Appelfeld (Hebrew: אהרון אפלפלד) (born February 16, 1932 in Czernowitz, Romania) is an Israeli novelist.


In 1940, when Appelfeld was eight years old, the Nazis invaded his hometown and his mother was killed. Appelfeld was deported with his father to a concentration camp in Ukraine. He escaped and hid for three years before joining the Soviet Army as a cook. After World War II, Appelfeld spent several months in a displaced persons camp in Italy before immigrating to Palestine in 1946, two years before Israel's independence. He was reunited with his father after finding his name on a Jewish Agency list. The father had been sent to a ma'abara (refugee camp) in Be'er Tuvia. The reunion was so emotional that Appelfeld has never been able to write about it.

In Israel, Appelfeld made up for his lack of formal schooling and learned Hebrew, the language in which he began to write. His first literary efforts were short stories, but gradually he progressed to novels. He completed his studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Today, Appelfeld lives in Mevaseret Zion and teaches literature at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

Choice of language

Aharon Appelfeld is one of Israel's foremost living Hebrew-language authors, despite the fact that he did not learn the language until he was a teenager. His mother tongue is German, but he also speaks Yiddish, Ukrainian, Russian, English and Italian. With his subject matter revolving around the Holocaust and the sufferings of the Jews in Europe, he could not bring himself to write in German. He chose Hebrew as his literary vehicle for its succinctness and biblical imagery.

Appelfeld purchased his first Hebrew book at the age of 25: King of Flesh and Blood by Moshe Shamir. In an interview with the newspaper Haaretz, he said he agonized over it, because it was written in Mishnaic Hebrew and he had to look up every word in the dictionary.

The Holocaust as a literary theme

Many Holocaust survivors have written an autobiographical account of their survival, but Appelfeld does not offer a realistic depiction of the events. He writes short stories that can be interpreted in a metaphoric way. Instead of his personal experience, he sometimes evokes the Holocaust without even relating to it directly. His style is clear and precise, but also very modernistic.

Appelfeld resides in Israel but writes little about life there. Most of his work focuses on Jewish life in Europe before, during and after World War II. As an orphan from a young age, the search for a mother figure is central to his work. During the Holocaust he was separated from his father, and only met him again twenty years later.


Silence, muteness and stuttering are motifs that run through much of Appelfeld's work. Disability becomes a source of strength and power.

Critical acclaim

Appelfeld's novels have won critical and popular acclaim. He was awarded Israel's top honor, the Israel Prize, in 1983. Among his better-known works are Badenheim 1939 (ISBN 0-87923-799-6) and The Immortal Bartfuss (ISBN 0-8021-3358-4) which won the National Jewish Book Award for fiction in 1989. Appelfeld's autobiography, The Story of a Life: A Memoir (2003, ISBN 0-8052-4178-7), won France's Prix Médicis. The German city of Dortmund awarded Appelfeld the Nelly Sachs Prize in 2005.

Other novels by Aharon Appelfeld available in English translation are: The Age of Wonders (1978, tr. 1981), Tzili (1982, tr. 1983), To the Land of the Cattails (tr. 1986), Katerina (1989, tr. 1992), Iron Tracks (1991, tr. 1998), and The Conversion (1998, tr. 1999).

In 2007, Appelfeld's Badenheim 1939 was adapted for the stage and performed at the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem.


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