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Badenheim, 1939 [Paperback]

Aharon Appelfeld , Dalya Bilu
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 148 pages
  • Publisher: David R. Godine Publisher; New Ed edition (1 Mar 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879237996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879237998
  • Product Dimensions: 18.5 x 11.9 x 0.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,646,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


A tale of Europe in the days just before the war. It tells of a small group of Jewish holiday makers in the resort of Badenheim in the Spring of 1939. Hitler's war looms, but Badenheim and its summer residents go about life as normal.

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars And the band played on 17 Mar 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Aharon Appelfeld did not include the date in his title for this novel. To the name of the fictional Austrian town in which the action is located, he instead added the information Ir Nofesh, which Gabriel Josipovici in his Introduction (best treated as an afterword) tells us means literally City of Leisure, but more colloquially Holiday Resort or Spa.

To specify the year is to spur recollection that it was in 1939 that the Second World War began. Appelfeld presumably did not want that. His story is of the temporary ghettoisation of Badenheim, preparatory to transport of its Jewish residents to Poland - no doubt ultimately to die in the death camps - but he makes no mention in his story of contemporary or recent political developments, and reveals only by degrees that all his principal characters are Jewish.

Some of those characters are only half Jewish; some have married out, converted to Christianity, or renounced all religion; some hold exalted positions in academia, the army, commerce; some are mere children; two are the town's middle-aged prostitutes. There is an unborn infant. All are imprisoned in the town and, but for those who, as the months pass, are interred in the makeshift cemetery, and Frau Zauberblit, who is taken back to the sanatorium from which she escaped,* all will ultimately join the long-awaited transport - "all sucked in as easily as grains of wheat poured into a funnel".

Appelfeld is rather fond of Badenheim. It is set in pleasant countryside; the hotel and other facilities are comfortable, if just a little dated; the same goes for the cultural programme laid on for summer visitors; and the strawberry tarts are irresistible. Appelfeld relishes Badenheim's residents too.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Zionist perspective on the holocaust...? 2 Dec 2013
By Jezza
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really didn't like this book, even though it is beautifully written and a good translation. I think that I don't like it because it is such a thoroughly Zionist perspective on the holocaust. It focuses on a group of German/Austrian Jews in a spa resort who wilfully refuse to see the increasingly obvious signs around them that something terrible is happening. While the 'Sanitation Department' fences them they continue to obsess about music and eat pastries. Even when the food starts to run out they refuse to see what is happening to them and what is so obviously going to happen.

At one level it's possible to see this as a universal fable about denial, but I think that Appelfeld, as a mainstream Israeli writer and a holocaust survivor himself is writing about more than this. His own experience of the Holocaust was nothing to do with that of German/Austrian Jews. He hid in the forests and served with a Red Army unit as a cook. But the Zionist narrative spends a lot of time on German Jews, even though they were a tiny minority of holocaust victims, because they illustrate so well the argument that assimilation is doomed to failure. Appelfeld emphasises how little the Jews in his story feel for their Jewish identity, how important German high culture is to them.

He also seems to have very little sympathy for them. They don't have any sort of inner life; we just see their increasingly obnoxious behaviour and listen to their pretentious speech.It's hard to avoid the implication that they have brought their fate upon themselves, by their bad choices and their refusal to see what is going on. If this isn't victim-blaming I don't know what is.

[Spoiler Alert] If there is any doubt about this the final passage of the book drives the lesson home.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
62 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Restrained, Polished and Beautiful 9 Oct 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Aharon Appelfeld's beautiful and highly polished novel, Badenheim 1939 was originally published in Hebrew in 1975. Although the Holocaust forms both the historical backdrop of the novel as well as its imaginative focus, it does so from behind-the-scenes and, as such, is subtle and implicit in its assertions, all to its enormous credit.
Badenheim 1939 is set at an Austrian vacation resort during the spring of 1939. A seemingly unremarkable assortment of middle-class Jews on holiday have gathered at Badenheim, only to later be united by what would become history's most atrocious turning point. The "Music Festival" resort of Badenheim will, soon enough, become a place of Jewish detainment from which the only exit will be via forced transport to Poland.
The vacationers, however, for the most part, remain in blissful unawareness of what is to come. Spring is in the air and summer is about to blossom; the Jews spend their days strolling the hotel gardens, visiting the cities cafés, sampling strawberry tartes at the local pastry shops, engaging in sports and bickering, gossiping, bargaining and complaining, much as any other vacationer. The mounting horror, which every reader of this sensitive and elegant book will realize, is made all the greater by the fact that it is a horror the characters simply cannot, or will not, see.
Badenheim 1939 is written with an artistic subtlety and insight with which most modern readers remain sadly unfamiliar. Appelfeld's concern, in this book, is with the prelude to the German catastrophe and not with its actual occurrence. The author, himself a Holocaust survivor, makes virtually no mention of the Nazi atrocities and shows no interest in the graphic portrayal of the brutalities committed. Appelfeld is certainly not oblivious to the facts, he simply has chosen to place his focus elsewhere. In Badenheim 1939, the Holocaust is an incipient threat rather than a full-blown horror.
Appelfeld's prose is more akin to lyric poetry than to narrative fiction and shows a tremendous gift for rhetorical restraint that is rare among writers. This is a beautiful and quiet tale, exquisitely told with imagery, understatement and indirection. The effects of the narrative accumulate and change in much the same way the seasons do, in increments that are minimal and yet extraordinarily moving. This is history, but it is history perceived at its most mundane. In this remarkable manner, Appelfeld creates something of extraordinary beauty and yet, manages to intensify the tragedy.
In the end, Appelfeld's characters do, of course, suffer the horrors that befell all Jews, of every nation, whether directly or indirectly. The genius of Badenheim 1939 lies in its projections of a gradual, incipient menace and its portraits of Jewish reactions, which range from ready adjustment to slowly unfolding despair.
It is in the space between the reader's knowledge of what is beginning to unfold for the Jews and the latter's own blindness to it that the book registers its most powerful impact, once again doing so without any direct reference to the ovens, the gas chambers or the camps. Appelfeld's artistic beauty lies in his amazing ability to suggest rather than describe. Giorgio Bassani was able to do something similar in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis but Appelfeld is, perhaps, the more superior.
Rarely has the tragic end point of Jewish fate been invoked no clearly and disturbingly and yet so indirectly. We come away from Badenheim 1939 as though from a finely-rendered tone poem, complete with the knowledge that we have been absorbed into a special moment in time and in feeling; in this case, the moment just before the trains departed for Poland, the final pause before the end.
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Badenheim 1939 18 Dec 2004
By Damian Kelleher - Published on Amazon.com
Badenheim is a quiet, idyllic holiday town in Eastern Europe. The 'leader' of the town, Dr Pappenheim, is busy preparing for the annual festival, writing letters and sending telegrams to beg and plead for musicians and artists from Vienna.

While the preparations are under way, the Sanitation Department begins quietly undertaking a rigorous inspection of each and every house and shop in Badenheim. Among the many questions asked is how many and who of the residents are Jewish. The vacationers and locals alike think nothing of the questions, nonchalantly confirming or denying their religion, and returning to their food, their wine, their entertainment. Here and there, a few people discuss the increasing powers of the Sanitation Department - they have just recently closed the Post Office - but nobody seems to mind. Badenheim is quiet and peaceful, and that is how they like it.

Time passes. The impresario, Dr Pappenheim, is still writing letters, but he senses that they are going off into the void, never to return. A few - very few - letters are still allowed into Badenheim, but for the most part, the Sanitation Department has closed off the city. Guards are posted to deny entry or exit to any man, woman or child of Jewish descent. It happens so slowly that nobody really notices, but at one stage, almost all of the non-Jewish people have gone, and of the tiny trickle of visitors allowed into Badenheim, every person is a Jew.

There is a quiet horror to Badenheim 1939. Throughout this very short book, it seems as though with each page, the oppression and terror of World War II is approaching the Jewish people of Badenheim, but they never see it. With every freedom slowly being denied - the shops are closed, the gates are sealed, outside communication is forbidden - the reader is left to wonder if this time, if this time when the Sanitation Department closes the pastry shop, say, will they understand? But they never do. Everything happens over such a long period of time, and so quietly, that nobody really seems to realise when they are suddenly trapped, except for a few minor characters who are slowly going mad, the cracks in the calm facade they have wrapped themselves in widening with every minute.

This book is most effective because we know what happened to the Jews post-1939. We know where they are going, and what will likely happen to them. The Sanitation Department assures them that they will be transplanted to Poland, and everything will be fine. They believe because they have to believe. Towards the end of the novel, the razor wire, the guns, the dogs all make an appearance. To ignore what is happening is suicidal, and yet they do. After all, how could a race of people imagine that they would be persecuted in such a terrifying manner? Surely, their minds would shied away from such horrible information, from the mere idea that a man - a country - wanted to eradicate six million of them? And yet, that is what happened, and that is how the novel ends, a perfect, bleak, dark ending that is all the more horrifying for how completely reasonable every single tiny little step leading up to their incarceration inside a derelict train, headed, presumably, for Auschwitz.

Badenheim 1939 is a powerful book because it shows how easy it is to accept something unacceptable, if it is presented in small, reasonable, easily palatable pieces. None of these characters are overly bad, or good - they are absolutely normal. They squabble, they argue, they love, they laugh, they sing, they cry. In fact, throughout the entire novel, nothing untoward happens to any of them - except for the encroaching holocaust.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First the calm, then the quiet terror..... 7 Aug 2006
By Jesse Kornbluth - Published on Amazon.com
Aharon Appelfeld, one of Israel's greatest writers, has had only a handful of his 40 books translated into English. It's too bad. Then again, it's too bad Appelfeld didn't write "Badenheim 1939" under the pen name "Albert Camus" --- if he had, this 148-page novel would be taught alongside "The Stranger" and regarded, rightly, as a modern classic.

Appelfeld is a very unlikely writer. But then, it's remarkable that he's alive. Born in Romania in 1932, he was a quiet boy, an only child. He was just 8 when the Nazis shot his mother and deported him and his father to a concentration camp in the Ukraine, at which point they were separated for twenty years. Aharon escaped to Russia, where he was a shepherd. In 1944, at 12, he joined the Russian Army. When the war ended, he made his way to Italy and, finally, to Palestine. He spoke so many languages he couldn't express himself in any. And he had only a year or two of schooling. But he managed to enroll in college in Jerusalem and, soon after, to begin writing stories in Hebrew.

Appelfeld has one great subject: understanding what happened to his people. "I'm dealing with a civilization that has been killed," he has said. "How to represent it in the most honorable way --- not to equalize it, not to exaggerate, but to find the right proportion to represent it, in human terms." What kept him from depression, bitterness, suicide? "I've never been an angry person. This is what saved me."

"Badenheim 1939" --- the first of Appelfeld's books to be translated from Hebrew to English --- is a modest, precise, even-handed tale. As it should be; this is a simple story, of a single season in a resort town favored by Jews. As the novel begins, Spring has arrived. So have the musicians. And the first tourists.

Dr. Pappenheim is the local impresario; he's all bustle. Expect to see him at the Post Office, sending telegrams and opening letters. But this season is unlike all others. For one thing, the Sanitation Department has increased powers --- it's now authorized to undertake "independent investigations." For reasons not made clear, these investigations include the construction of fences and rolls of barbed wire. Appliances appear, "suggestive of preparations for a public celebration." The visitors to the resort expect "fun and games."

And, indeed, the office of the Sanitation Department is starting to look like a travel agency, thanks to the new signs: "The air in Poland is fresher" and "Get to know the Slavic Culture" and "Labor is our Life." There's plenty of time to think about those signs; walks are now forbidden, guests must stay on the grounds of the hotel. It's a nice break in a dull day when the Sanitation Department puts maps on Poland on sale.

The Post Office closes. Just as well. No mail is arriving --- and who knows if letters are getting out? But more people suddenly show up, all of them Jews. Here for the Music Festival? Apparently not.

And now it's Fall. The cakes of summer are no more. Ditto cigarettes. Lunch is barley soup and dry bread. Concern? Bad dreams? Of course. But no one can really believe that what is happening is more than an inconvenience. At worst, a mistake.

At last a train appears at the station. An engine with four filthy freight cars. The last paragraph shows how the worst thing you can imagine can be sold to you as something else. How easily you and yours can be lost. And, in one of the greatest sentences ever to end a book, how you can go to your doom still believing it's all going to be okay.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simple and powerful 13 Oct 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
At first blush, it seemed that author Appelfeld is spotlighting the ignorance of humanity to impending terror by making fun of the characters. But further analysis reveals that Appelfeld in fact was a child when this stain on humanity's history was unfolding. His elders were in fact hiding their heads in the sand, but then so was the entire world. He may in fact then be crying out and trying to understand why the children were betrayed by the only people who could have any influence in trying to save themselves and their children. If his family and friends acted as fools, then that is the way that he portrays them. And just in looking at his writing style, I think that he is outstanding with straightforward sentences, clean dialogue, and implied conclusions.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Badenheim 1939 - Why we must never forget 19 Feb 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
A beautifully haunting tale of people oblivious to the impending doom of Nazism. This book is a must read for everyone; Jewish or not; as a reminder that complacency is as dangerous as ignoring the lessons of history
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