Monday, May 3, 2010

The Story of a Life by Aharon Appelfeld 1999 in Hebrew; 2004 in English

"In more than three dozen books, Appelfeld ... has used his memories of life from ages 8 to 13 to create a literature that explores the range of the human soul, in which his characters are subject to extreme conditions and respond in ways that are often horrifying, but can also be surprisingly graceful and courageous." From an interview with David Green in Haaretz.com, 4/05/2010 

In this memoir the Israeli fiction writer Aharon Appelfeld discusses being a child in Czernowitz, surviving the Holocaust, being without family, adjusting to life in Israel, and becoming a writer.

Appelfeld, who was born in 1932  in Czernowitz, Ukraine, was only seven years old when World War II broke out. We learn that his family was moved to the ghetto, that his mother was killed and that he and his father and his grandfather went together on a forced march out of Ukraine, that his grandfather died on the way, that he and his father were separated, that he was in a camp and later escaped into the forest, that he was in a displaced person's camp in Italy, and that he went by boat to Palestine. But this is not a Holocaust memoir that unfolds in a chronological fashion and that is heavy on detail. His point is not to tell that story but to set the scene for what he wants to convey about growing up in Palestine/Israel.

What the memoir is about is his lingering feelings of alienation, loss and trauma. German was the language of culture his parents spoke, Yiddish the language of his grandparents. In Israel he had to learn Hebrew, a language he found very difficult and totally foreign, a language that he struggled with in order to feel comfortable expressing himself. In his eyes he neither looked like an Israeli nor felt like one. He joined the army at eighteen to become more “Israeli” but was disappointed that he was only found "Fit For Service" which meant he served in a non-combatant role.

The memoir ends with a chapter about the New Life Club founded by Holocaust survivors from Galicia and Bukovina which became his second home because it connected to his identity as a Holocaust survivor. He says at one point that he realized he had to write as a refugee and not as an Israeli.

To see a moving video of the untended Czernowitz Jewish cemetery click here.
To see photos of a partial clean-up of the cemetery in 2008, click here.

People
Felix- author's mother’s uncle; agronomist; father had been a rabbi; married to Regina

     Michael and Bonia Appelfeld – author’s parents
           Aharon Appelfeld’s original first name – Erwin; born in Czernowitz, 1932; author


Hirsh Lang – survivor/ friend in Israel

Places
Czernowitz, Ukraine
Bukovina, Ukraine
Atlit Camp - Palestine

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