Israeli novelist and Holocaust survivor Aharon Appelfeld dies aged 85

Appelfeld was separated from his parents during the war and reunited with his father twenty years later


Aharon Appelfeld, a leading Israeli novelist and Holocaust survivor, has died at the age of 85.

Mr Appelfeld, the author of books including Badenheim 1939 and Blooms of Darkness, was born in 1932 in Jadova in Romania, now part of Ukraine.

In 1941, when he was nine years old, Mr Appelfeld’s mother was murdered and he was deported to a concentration camp in the Transnistria region, where he was separated from his father.

Managing to escape, he hid for three years before joining the advancing Soviet forces as a young cook. In 1946 he was able to emigrate to the British Palestinian Mandate, which was to become Israel two years later.

Although Mr Appelfeld only started to learn Hebrew in his mid-teens, he went on to become one of Israel’s foremost Hebrew language authors, winning the 1979 Bialik prize for literature and the 1983 Israel prize for literature.

In 1997, he was made a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Mr Appelfeld’s father also survived the war – something he only found out almost two decades after being forcibly separated from him in the camps. He never wrote about the reunion but described it in 2000 during an interview with Michael Gluzman in the Mikan journal:

"I saw Father's name on the Jewish Agency list, and I did not know if it was Father or not. I asked where he was. I was told he was at the ma’abara (immigrant transit camp) in Be’er Tuvia.

“At Be’er Tuvia they told me he was working in the orange grove. He had been at Be’er Tuvia for 10 days already, found a job and was working as a fruit-picker. I go to the grove and ask where he is, they tell me, ‘In that tree.’ I see a ladder, and on the ladder stands a very old Jew.

“I address him in German and say, ‘Herr Appelfeld?’ and he comes down the ladder, looks at me and cannot speak a single word, only the tears flow down his face.

“And for a whole day he could not speak a word, just this terrible crying. He does not tell me that he is my father, I do not tell him that I am his son.

“To this day I can't do anything with it. It brings me to tears, it’s not something I can touch. I cannot. Not yet. Maybe in 20 years I will be able to touch this fire.”

The two men spent two decades together after their reunion.

Mr Appelfeld, who passed away early on Thursday morning, is survived by his wife and three children.

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