Aharon Appelfeld, author of 47 books, has died at 85. Known mainly for his holocaust fiction, essays and memoirs, Appelfeld received the National Jewish Book Award, the Israel Prize and France’s Prix Médicis. He was appointed Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He wrote exclusively in Hebrew, a language he did not learn until he was 14. That was the year he arrived in Israel as a refugee from Europe.
When he was 9, German and Romanian forces moved in to take over the town where he lived. Hearing the gunshots that killed his mother and grandmother, Appelfeld escaped by jumping out of a window of his grandparents’ home. He found his father and fled with him to Czernowitz, Romania (now part of Ukraine) where they lived in the Jewish ghetto until they were forced to walk more than 170 miles to a Nazi labor camp in Transnistria.
Separated from his father, Appelfeld escaped and was picked up by a group of Ukrainian criminals and later found refuge living with a local prostitute. When the war ended he walked with Red Army soldiers from Romania to Bulgaria and from there to a displaced persons camp in Italy. In 1946 he arrived in Palestine, where he was later reunited with his father.
These events of his early life shaped his writings, but he did not turn out autobiographical accounts. “The reality of the Holocaust surpassed any imagination,” Mr. Appelfeld told novelist and admirer Philip Roth in a 1988 interview. “If I remained true to the facts, no one would believe me.” He did not consider himself a “chronicler of the war…I don’t feel that I write about the past.” Rather, literature, according to Appelfeld, “is an enduring present…an attempt to bring time into an ongoing present.”
Appelfeld passed away on January 4.