Badenheim 1939 by Aharon Appelfeld
Badenheim 1939 is an unusual Holocaust text. Instead of focusing on the concentration camp experience or a single character, the short novel centers on a plush vacation town in the early stages of Hitler’s “Final Solution”. Various Jewish vacationers and past residents arrive at the city, under the increasingly flimsy disguise of a community festival. The “Sanitation office” is likely Hitler’s Gestapo in a bureaucratic coating. Nothing in this novel is what it seems. Character development is a complex process of individual cases of denial and stages of expectance. As the plot progresses, the fever of emotions rises to a hysterical pitch. However, the community, forced and kept in Badenheim never directs resistance or anger to their government. The overwhelming theme of Badenheim 1939 is denial.
The citizens refuse to acknowledge what is happening in their town (which has effectively become a ghetto). They instead as a group focus on luxurious foods, alcohol, and stolen drugs. Even as the book crescendos to the finale, when thousands of starving, dirty, imprisoned Jews crowd into the town, Appelfeld’s main characters throw a party.
When the trains arrive to take the victims to their new “home,” denial reins supreme; “they were all sucked in as easily as grains of wheat poured into a funnel. Nevertheless Dr. Pappenheim found time to make the following remark: ‘If the coaches are so dirty it must mean that we have not far to go.’”(p 148)
Aharon Appelfeld is a Holocaust survivor. Appelfeld was born in Czernovitz, Bukovina in 1932. His mother was killed in the Nazi sweep across the east. He escaped the labor camp Transnistria and wandered for three years in the forests. In 1944 the Red Army and worked in field kitchens in the Ukraine. He is author of collections of short stories and several novels in Hebrew. Badenheim 1939 is the first to be translated into English. Badenheim 1939 is currently (March 28, 2003) out of print.
Appelfeld, Aharon. Badenheim 1939. trans. Bilu, Dalya. David R. Godine, Boston, Mass. USA. 1980.