Peter C. Appelbaum

Voyage Into Savage Europe - A Declining Civilization

Edited and Translated By Peter C. Appelbaum

ISBN: 9781644693360 (hardcover), 9781644693377 (paperback)
Pages: approx. 270 pp.
Publication Date: September 2020
Publisher: Cherry Orchard Press

Available from
Academic Studies Press

From the translator of Avigdor Hameiri’s Hell on Earth, winner of the 2019 TLS-Risa Domb/Porjes Prize

In this unique memoir, now in English for the first time, Israel’s first Poet Laureate Avigdor Hameiri details a trip to Europe in 1930 from the perspective of a Hungarian Jew who had served in the Habsburg Army. Upon visiting Austria, Hungary, Romania (including parts of ceded Hungarian Transylvania), and Czechoslovakia (including his Carpatho-Ruthenian homeland), he sees Europe in flux on the brink of an unknown disaster. Austria and Hungary are full of youth whose philosophy is “eat, drink and be merry; tomorrow we die.” There is fear of Bolshevism from without, but the unfelt danger is German Fascism. Jews (especially in Hungary) are assimilated but cannot escape from their Jewishness: some are Zionists. Romania is corrupt and antisemitic. In Carpatho-Ruthenia, Hameiri has two premonitions warning him to return to Israel, a prediction of the destruction soon to befall Europe. Hameiri also gives accounts of the artistic and cultural scenes of 1930s Europe, as well as the world of Carpatho-Ruthenian Hasidism, which was soon to be destroyed by the Holocaust. From the growing danger and confusion surrounding inter-war Europe, in prose at once compassionate and bitingly sarcastic, comes a sweeping account of Jewish life in 1930 from one of Israel’s prolific writers.


“In 1930, the pioneering Hebrew writer Avigdor Hameiri left his home in Mandate-era Palestine to revisit the Europe he had left. This extraordinary travelogue, based on the newspaper reports he wrote after his journey, is the result. Hameiri writes as a committed Zionist, proud creator of a new Land of Israel, but also as a nostalgic Hungarian patriot still enchanted by Budapest, Vienna, and the enduring charm and grace of the world he quit. Yet his travels in Italy and Central Europe prophetically reveal a ‘barbarous’ continent shaken by nationalist fervour, distracted by mass entertainment, and torn by sectarian fanaticism. Hameiri may despise the movies as the epitome of modern decadence, but he composes each sharply-focused scene—from the café society of great cities to the village life of remote provinces—with a cinematic flair and pace. If his glimpses of the ‘primeval jungle’ of hatred and violence within European culture show a chilling foresight, so his dream of a continent united as ‘one large family’ looks towards a happier future. Peter C. Appelbaum’s gripping and flavourful translation does full justice to the surging, contradictory energy of this unique work of witness.”
— Boyd Tonkin, author of The 100 Best Novels in Translation

“Avigdor Hameiri left Europe after first-hand experience of the horrors of the Eastern front and captivity, years he described as continual madness. A decade later, he returns as a visitor to Europe, which is no longer insane, but has turned savage. His impressions of his native Hungary, Austria, Italy and neighboring countries are colored by the beastly, untamed, and wildly dangerous rise of National Socialist racism. Hameiri’s detailed, opinionated observations may not be factually accurate, but are an authentic product of its time and the vision of Europe in 1930. Hameiri documents his lost homeland and part of himself with it. While written for the Hebrew-reading public in then British mandatory Palestine, this book is quintessentially European, even with its focus on the Jewish community, and this excellent English translation puts it on the European bookshelf, where it belongs.”
— Tamar S. Drukker, Lecturer in Hebrew (Education), SOAS University of London

“At first sight, it seems inconceivable that a poet and novelist reporting for a Jewish journal in Palestine would have been able to assemble, in a short time, such an immense collection of astute observations on the Europeans’ political, cultural, religious, and artistic problems in the early 1930s. Interestingly, Avigdor Hameiri was concentrating on Central Europe, and specifically on Hungary. In fact, he was born in a tiny village which was then in the Hungarian Kingdom within the Habsburg Empire, and which later fell under Czechoslovak, then Slovak, then again Hungarian, then Soviet, and finally under Ukrainian sway. Only the poverty of the village’s Rusin-speaking inhabitants has not really changed. Hameiri’s Orthodox, Hebrew-oriented religious upbringing did not prevent him from serving in World War I as one of the Austro-Hungarian Army’s 30,000-odd Jewish reserve officers—far more Jewish officers than in the later Israeli Defense Force. Captured by the Russians in 1916, and following many other adventures, he moved to Palestine in 1921. Ten years later, as an established literary figure, he returned for a long visit to Europe. Amazingly for someone whose co-religionists had suffered many injustices after the war, Hameiri never lost his patriotic adherence to the Hungarian cause. He remained forever heartbroken over Hungary’s loss of two-thirds of its territory and inhabitants, and he rightly predicted that the post-World War I peace settlements would lead to a new war. Some of Hameiri’s contemporary observations of near-bankrupt but culturally thriving Central Europe sound odd today, but many others stood the test of time. Peter Appelbaum not only brilliantly translated a text which is full of complex references and referrals, but he enriched it with hundreds of learned annotations. All this makes for an enjoyable and intellectually stimulating book.”
— István Deák, Seth Low Professor Emeritus of History, Modern Europe, Columbia University

“This travelogue written by Hebrew writer Avigdor Hameiri is steeped in ambivalence. Returning from Palestine to his eastern European roots in 1930, the author feels both disgust for and attraction to elements of the Jewish world in Eastern Europe from which he came. And yet he has a premonitory sense of the cruelties that await those who still tried to cling to the old world. Here is a disturbing document, one filled with both the conflicts imbedded in the Zionist project and the yearning for freedom it embodied.
— Jay Winter, Charles J. Stille Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University


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