No electric light shines in Appelfeld's modest work corner, so, every day, from the shadows, images of his past emerge. He doesn't type his works into a computer. He doesn't like the sense of alienation it creates. Only after he's satisfied with his writing, he types the final version on a small typewriter. There's something mystical about it, says Appelfeld in reference to his 50-year old typewriter; it gives him a tactile connection to his words.
Every day, like clockwork, Appelfeld sits in the Jerusalem coffee shops, where he conjures up and enhances memories of a disappearing world—his and that of the many good Jews who were lost in the chaos of that terrible War.
Aharon Appelfeld was born in 1932 near Czernowitz (Romania). He experienced the Holocaust as a young boy. At the beginning of World War II, he lost his mother, and he and his father were exiled to Transnistria (in the Ukraine). After they were separated, he wandered from village to village across the Ukraine with various groups of displaced persons. Appelfeld reached Israel at the age of fifteen as part of `Aliyat ha-No`ar (Jewish Agency for Israel's Youth Aliyah Dept.), who provided him with three years of education, the beginning of his formal education. After serving in the Israeli army, he studied Hebrew and Yiddish literatures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
He began his writing career while still a youth. His first poems were published in newspapers between 1954-1955, and in 1959 his first story appeared in the journal Gazit. Many of his writings reflect his experiences as a youth during the Holocaust, or as a young Holocaust survivor in Israel.
Aharon Appelfeld served as a professor in the Dept. of Hebrew Literature at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev from 1979 until his retirement. He holds honorary degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Brandeis University, Bar-Ilan University, the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Yeshiva University and the Hebrew Union College. He has won the Anne Frank prize twice, and in 1969 he won the Literature Prize, bestowed by the Prime Minister of Israel. He was awarded the Bialik Prize, the Brenner Prize (in 1975 for his book Ke-ishon ha-`ayin) and the Israel Prize for Belles-Lettres in 1983. Recently, he received the respected Medici Prize in France for his work Sipur hayim.
The judges for the Brenner Prize said of Appelfeld: "The instinct of an artist whispered to him not to use the actual description of the Holocaust, since the horrific chronicle is stronger than all imagination and would stymie any worthy artistic design. However, he wisely internalized the horror, allowing it to settle at the base of his soul, fluttering in suffering, unable to extricate itself from its tragic complications."
Appelfeld died at the age of 85 on January 4, 2018.