cover image The Iron Tracks

The Iron Tracks

Aron Appelfeld / Author, Aharon Appelfeld / Author, Jeffrey M. Green / T

The neglected towns and rundown railroad stations of post-Holocaust Europe have a hold on Erwin Siegelbaum. He wanders them in an endless cycle, searching for his lost childhood, for nearly destroyed Jewish treasures and, most especially, for a man named Nachtigel, a former German officer who murdered Erwin's parents in the concentration camps. He is not alone. Others like him--Jewish men without families, burdened by memory--travel the same routes, competing with Erwin for the remains of candlesticks and prayer books, bearing the weight so often felt by Holocaust survivors: ""No one knew what to do with the life that had been saved."" As Erwin begins his yearly cycle of traveling, he makes a startling discovery: Nachtigel, now an old man, has been sighted in a nearby town. This news challenges Erwin to live up to his lifelong promise: to shoot Nachtigel and, in doing so, free himself. Appelfeld (translated with great care from the Hebrew by Green) writes with empathy but never sentimentality. With insistence and clarity, he recalls the prewar cruelty between Jewish Communists and Jewish factory owners; the often bloody scavenging by camp survivors after the war; and now, 40 years later, the search for meaning in religion, in old friendships, in the simple fact of continued existence. When Erwin says, ""...and in this repetition lies a strange hopefulness,"" Appelfeld (Katerina; To the Land of the Cattails) may well be speaking of his own career. No other Israeli writer has written about the world of the Holocaust so often and with such devotion; certainly few writers at all have done so better than he does here. (Feb.)