Page 111 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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FURSTENBERG/ AHARON APPELFELD AND HOLOCAUST LITERATURE
103
incomprehension, the inability to completely grasp the meaning
and import o f events. Through the eyes o f the child, Bruno, we
see how the lives o f these assimilated Jews become increasingly
circumscribed and terrorized. The character that looms largest in
Bruno’s world is his father.
The father belongs to the world of assimilated Austrian intel­
lectuals. He has achieved fame as an Austrian writer and is in­
credulous when he is attacked as a Jew. Deluded, self-hating, the
father tries to purge the ‘Jewish elements’from his writing. But to
no avail. His position deteriorates anyway.
Appelfeld shows us the paucity of the aesthetic and the intellec­
tual in face o f the circumstances. The father emerges as a weak,
vain man. Family relations break down. Each person retreats into
himself preparing, perhaps, for the ultimate fate he must face
alone. The father’s actions nevertheless, can only be read as be­
trayal. In the end, he runs o ff in a last-ditch attempt to reestablish
his literary life in Vienna. There are rumors o f an attempted con­
version and he is last reported to have been seen in one or an­
other of the concentration camps.
TRAIN MOTIF
One theme that repeats itself throughout the work and acts as a
foreshadowing of things to come, is that o f the train ride. The
story itself begins with a train ride. The mother and son are re­
turning from a quiet vacation at the shore. (The resort-vacation
theme with its closed, self-contained atmosphere is itself a fore­
shadowing of less genteel enclosures where Jews will be gathered.
Appelfeld uses this in many stories, not unaware, of course, of
the Nazi proclamations that they were sending people off to
health resorts.) The surrealistic train ride too, bears intimations
of things to come. The compartment of first-class passengers,
mostly Jewish, becomes a cross-section of assimilated Austrian-
Jewish types who will be thrown together in less accommodating
trains in the near future.
The issue o f affirmation o f one’s Jewish identity is at the heart
of Appelfeld’s work. A character exists, he is a hero or a villain by
virtue of the choices he makes. But the Jews had few choices, few
alternatives to action except the existential one of affirming their
existence or denying it. We see this affirmation in the quiet hero­
ism o f Bruno’s mother who attempts in everyday tasks to help