Aharon Appelfeld, renowned Israeli author, dies at 85

Aharon Appelfeld, renowned Israeli author, dies at 85

Aharon Appelfeld in 2014. (Jwh/Wikimedia Commons)
Aharon Appelfeld in 2014. (Jwh/Wikimedia Commons)

JERUSALEM — Aharon Appelfeld, an Israeli author who published more than 45 books in Hebrew and won his country’s top prize for literature, has died.

Appelfeld, a Holocaust survivor, died early Thursday. He was 85. His most recent book was published three months ago; his books were translated into many languages.

Most of his fiction dealt in some way with the Holocaust, mainly its effect on his sometimes autobiographical characters, and the beginnings of the State of Israel. He fought in Israel’s 1948 War for Independence.

Much of his work is autobiographical. Appelfeld rejected the label of Holocaust author, however, calling it limiting.

Appelfeld won the Israel Prize for literature in 1983, and twice received the Prime Minister’s Prize, as well as the Brenner Prize for literature in 1975 and the Bialik Prize for literature in 1979. He was shortlisted as a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize for 2013.

He taught at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev until his retirement in 1979.

Appelfeld, whose given name was Ervin, was born in the former Kingdom of Romania in an area that is now Ukraine. His mother was murdered by the Nazis when he was about 8, and he and his father were sent on a forced march to the Transnistria labor camp.

Separated from his father, Appelfeld escaped the camp and hid for two years – including in the forest with a band of thieves and in the home of a Ukrainian prostitute. He then joined the Soviet Army, where he traveled to Bulgaria. Following World War II, he spent time in a displaced persons camp in Italy before joining a group of orphaned children in immigrating to Palestine in 1946.

Appelfeld was reunited with his father in 1957 in Israel after finding his father’s name on a Jewish Agency list of survivors.

In Israel, he earned an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in Hebrew and Yiddish literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

He is survived by his wife and three children.