Penn honors acclaimed Israeli author Aharon Appelfeld

Penn Current
October 27, 2011

(Photo by Marc Pautrel)

In a two-day conference that began yesterday, Penn is honoring internationally renowned Israeli author Aharon Appelfeld, celebrating his life and work.

Co-sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program, Kelly Writers House, the Middle East Center and Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, the symposium brings together a host of leading scholars of Jewish and Israeli literature from the Middle East, Europe and North America.

The celebration kicked off Wednesday with talks, a film screening and a dinner reception. It concludes today with an evening conversation between Appelfeld and Nili Gold, an associate professor of modern Hebrew literature in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Gold’s chat with Appelfeld begins at 5 p.m. in Claudia Cohen Hall, Room G17. The event is free and open to the public.

Appelfeld, 79, is one of the last living survivors of the Holocaust. Born in 1932 in Ukraine, his mother was murdered by the Nazis when he was 8 years old, and he and his father were deported to a concentration camp.

"He slept in his shoes for weeks because his mother was the one who took them off for him before he went to bed," says Gold, one of the conference's main organizers.

Appelfeld later escaped and hid in the forest for three years. Gold says he survived by toiling as an occasional servant or slave of society’s outcasts, "prostitutes and criminals who abused him, turning on him when they smelled he was Jewish."

He eventually joined the Soviet Army before finding his way to a displaced persons camp in Italy, and then Palestine in 1946. There, he began writing short stories, novels and essays that have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Appelfeld's books, notably "Badenheim 1939," "The Age of Wonders" and his memoir, "The Story of a Life," draw on his childhood and early life.

"World War II branded on his soul," Gold says.

Appelfeld and Gold have known each other for several years and they share a special bond: Gold’s mother came from the same town where Appelfeld was born.

"When he learned that," she says, "he started calling me 'bat iri,' which means 'the daughter of my town.'"

For more information about the conference, contact Chrissy Walsh at 215-898-6654 or email