By Israel Drazin


The Retreat

By Aharon Appelfeld


Aharon Appelfeld was born in 1932. At age eight he saw his mother murdered by the Nazis. He escaped from a Nazi concentration camp when he was nine years old, wandered in the forests for two years, and immigrated to Palestine in 1946. He wrote many books about life in Europe prior to the Holocaust. This 164 page novel is one of them.  The New York Times considered this 1984 translation from the Hebrew original “A small masterpiece, the vision of a remarkable poet.” The London Guardian wrote “Appelfeld is one of the greatest writers of the age.” The book is set in 1937 and tells how the Jews in Austria suffer so much anti-Semitism from all levels of Austrian society that many convert to Christianity, while others go to a hotel outside of Vienna called The Retreat to “cleanse themselves of all their Jewish traits.”


The resort is not designed to convert the Jews to Christianity although it tries to assimilate them into the Christian culture. There are daily activities whose goal is to teach the Jews how to talk like non-Jews and acts and look like them so that they can pass as a non-Jew.


The Resort is a failure on many levels. It leads to suicides and the unconscious adoption by the Jews of the bigoted attitudes about Jews. These Jews have become, at least to a certain extent, Jew haters. Appelfeld reflects the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim’s finding in “Autonomy in the Extreme Situation” that even Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps absorbed Nazi notions; some even sewed their prison garments to resemble the Nazi uniform. This psychological phenomenon is akin to the Stockholm Syndrome.