Renowned Israeli author Aharon Appelfeld dies at 85

Aharon Appelfeld in 2014. (Jwh/Wikimedia Commons)

Aharon Appelfeld in 2014. (Jwh/Wikimedia Commons)

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israeli author Aharon Appelfeld, who published more than 45 books in Hebrew and translated into many languages, has died.

Appelfeld, whose most recent book was published three months ago, died early Thursday at the age of 85.

Most of Appelfeld’s fiction dealt in some way with the Holocaust, mainly its effect on his sometimes autobiographical characters, and the beginnings of the state of Israel. Much of his work is autobiographical. Appelfeld rejected the label of Holocaust author, however, calling it limiting.

Appelfeld, whose given name was Ervin, was born in the former Kingdom of Romania in an area that is now the Ukraine. His mother was murdered by the Nazis when he was about eight and he and his father were sent on a forced march to the Transnistria labor camp. Appelfeld, who was separated from his father, 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, and then joined a group of children with no parents in immigrating to Palestine in 1946.

In Palestine he attended a farm school and then Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he earned an undergraduate degree and a Master’s Degree in Hebrew and Yiddish Literature.  He fought in Israel’s 1948 War for Independence.

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

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

Appelfeld won the Israel Prize for literature in 1983, and twice received the Prime Minister’s Prize, as well as with 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 is survived by his wife and three children.

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