Peter C. Appelbaum

The Great Madness - Avigdor Hameiri

Author: Avigdor Hameiri
Translated and edited by Peter C. Appelbaum
Introduction by Dan Hecht
Poetry$24.00 U.S

When published in 1929, Avigdor Hameiri’s The Great Madness was compared to All Quiet on the Western Front published a year earlier. Drawing on his wartime experiences, Hameiri’s work quickly became a bestseller. This new translationwith annotations and extensive introduction presents an intensely personal perspective of warfare on the First World War’s Eastern Front. Within its pages Hameiri writes of the spectrum of emotions experienced by soldiers in combat.In so doing, he vividly reminds all readers of the trauma and tragedies of warriorsthrough the ages, regardless of rank, ethnicity, or nationality.

AVIGDOR HAMEIRI (Feuerstein, 1890–1970)was a Hebrew poet (the first Poet Laureate ofIsrael), novelist, editor, and translator. In 1916 hewas captured by the Russians while serving as anAustro-Hungarian officer on the Russian Front,imprisoned in Siberia, and released after the 1917October Revolution. He immigrated to Palestine in1921, joined the staff of the daily Haaretz, and ed-ited several journals. Hameiri published manynovels, short stories, and poetry collections givingliterary expression to his war experiences, the Third Aliyah, and the Holocaust.
Peter C. Appelbaum, MD, PhD, is an author, editor,and award-winning translator of numerous bookson Jewish military history and literature. Amongthem are Hell on Earth and Of Human Carnage byAvigdor Hameiri and Broken Carousel: German Jew-ish Soldier Poets of the Great War


Since its first publication in 1929, The Great Madness attracted generations of enthusiastic readers. It is a unique combination: an eventful war novel, depicting life in the trenches like the best European examples of World War I literature; a powerful mani­festation of solidarity toward fellow Jews and admiration of Jewish heroism during wartime that belied the traditionally meek image of Jews; and a deep personal quest, leading the author from Hungarian patriotism to the revelation of his Zionist identity. None of these qualities have lost their fresh, intriguing taste a century later.
—Professor Avner Holtzman, Department of Hebrew Literature, Tel-Aviv University

Avigdor Hameiri’s documentary novel, based on his own service in the Austro-Hungarian trenches of the First World War, provides a unique insight into the experi­ence of Jewish soldiers on the Eastern Front. As a devoted Zionist and Hun­garian patriot, Hameiri mar­ries many personal contradictions while surveying the terrible scenes around him. Dr. Peter Appelbaum, who has retranslated the novel from Hebrew with extensive annotations and the inclusion of previously untranslated poetry, has done a huge service in making it known to a wider readership. He has brilliantly retained the lively, ironic and sometimes directly humorous tone of the original while conveying Hameiri’s unsparing views of the battlefield. Appel­baum’s annotations are invaluable in explaining Hameiri’s frequent references to aspects of Judaism and to literary and political personalities. This translation is a major addition to the canon of First World War literature.
—Glenda Abramson, Professor Emerita of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University of Oxford

This hidden gem is one of the most gripping stories about the horrors and folly of war in world literature. Based on his personal experiences as a Jewish officer in the Imperial Army of the Habsburg Empire during World War I, Hameiri takes us into the trenches of the Eastern Front and then into Russian captivity at the twilight of the Czarist regime. One of the most extraordinary aspects of this unusual book is its optimism and the unyielding belief in the human spirit despite the barbarity, the depravity and the devastating apathy that was part of that long and terrible war.
—Yaron Peleg, Kennedy Leigh Reader in Modern Hebrew Studies, University of Cambridge

The Great Madness is a remarkable literary document of the Great War, using the familiar format of the memoir-novel to tell the lesser-known story of the Jewish soldiers in that war. Hameiri’s choice to write in Hebrew suggests that he was writing for an audience who did not experience the war first hand, to the Hebrew reading public in mandatory Palestine, and—indirectly—also to future generations. With wit, irony, and a keen eye for details, Hameiri presents a host of credible characters and with masterly control of literary tropes he describes the impossible, the chaos, the horror, and the total madness of the battlefield. The English translation preserves Hameiri’s unique literary style and brings his work to many more readers and back on the shelf of European literature of the Great War where this novel belongs.
—Tamar S. Drukker, Independent Research, Formerly, Lecturer in Hebrew (Education), SOAS University of London


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