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Books

Holocaust survivor and author Aharon Appelfeld dies, aged 85

Award-winning novelist Aharon Appelfeld has died at the age of 85. The Holocaust survivor was one of Israel's most prolific Hebrew-language writers.

The renowned Israeli author and Holocaust survivor Aharon Appelfeld passed away at Beilinson hospital near Tel Aviv on Thursday morning, according to reports by Israeli public radio. He was 85.

He was born Ervin Appelfeld in 1932 near the Romanian city of Czernowitz — today in Ukraine. After his mother was murdered in 1941, he and his father were deported to a Nazi concentration camp.

The 10-year-old boy managed to escape in 1942, fleeing into the forests, where he was "adopted by a gang of Ukrainian criminals," he once said in an interview with press agency AFP. He was recruited by the Red Army and left for Palestine at age 13.

He found out that his father had also survived the Holocaust in 1957.

A voice of displacement

Despite the fact that he had only learned Hebrew as a teenager, Appelfeld chose to write in that language instead of using his native language, German.

His first novel to be translated into English was "Badenheim 1939" in 1980. The allegorical satire tells the story of a fictional Jewish community in Austria shortly before its residents' deportation to Nazi concentration camps. 

Appelfeld published more than 40 novels which were translated into 35 languages and won several awards throughout his career.

They included the prestigious Israel Prize in 1983 and France's Prix Medicis literary award for best foreign book in 2004 for his 1999 autobiography "Story of a Life." 

Among the great admirers of his work is the American Jewish author Philip Roth, who called him "a displaced writer of displaced fiction, who has made of displacement and disorientation a subject uniquely his own."

Even though much of his writing deals with Jewish life in Europe before, during and after World War II, he refused to be classified as a Holocaust writer.

"You cannot be a writer of death. Writing means you're alive," he said.

eg/rf (AFP, AP)