Aharon Appelfeld did not include the date in his title for this novel, written and first published in Hebrew. 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 ghettoization 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 program laid on for summer visitors; and the strawberry tarts are irresistible. Appelfeld relishes Badenheim's residents too. Their reactions to imprisonment and the prospect of deportation vary, but for the most part the Kafkaesque escalation of the powers and activities of the Sanitation Department are accepted without question, and the uncertainties of the longer-term future never confronted. Life's trivialities go on as ever; are even nurtured as a means of evading serious thought.
Presented in large print over only 148 pages, this is a short novel and, on the face of it, an easy read. The hard part follows reflection on the dark matter that flows beneath the surface, that forms a lake beyond the perimeter fence. We too can evade such thoughts if we wish, but we will be very much the poorer if we do.
* Frau Zauberblit, we might guess, is destined to become a victim of the Nazi euthanasia campaign, an early experiment with Carbon Monoxide asphyxiation and covert cremation.