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S.y.agnon, Outstanding Hebrew Novelist of His Generation, Dies at the Age of 82

February 18, 1970
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Israel’s Nobel Laureate for literature in 1986, died today In a nursing home In Gedera at the age of 82. Mr. Agnon suffered a stroke six months ago and never fully recovered. His death was attributed to a heart attack. He will be buried in Jerusalem tomorrow. Mr. Agnon, who shared the Nobel Prize with Nelly Sachs, a German-Jewish poetess, was regarded as the outstanding Hebrew novelist of his generation.

His works are taught in Hebrew schools all over the world and have been translated into 16 languages. He Infused his writing with the wealth of Jewish scholarship he possessed and a remarkable knowledge of Jewish folk lore which stemmed from a traditional education in Eastern Europe and his Hassidic background. Agnon’s works were filled with words and images from the Bible, Talmud, Gaonic literature, medieval Hebrew poetry, Hassidic tales and rabbinic response. He knew as well the classic Hebrew poets and the Hebrew writers of his own generation. Although he drew heavily on tradition, he was considered a modern writer and an astute observer of the condition of modern man.

Agnon used the initials S.Y. to sign his works. His family name was Czaczkes. He was born in Buczaca, Austria-Hungary, in 1888 and settled In Israel, then Palestine, In 1909. Except for a sojourn in Germany, 1920-24 where he lectured on Hebrew literature and a few brief visits abroad, Agnon lived in Jerusalem. He was the recipient of the Bialik Prize for literature in 1934 and 1937, the Ussishkin Prize in 1950 and the Israel Prize in 1958. He was made an Honorary Citizen of Jerusalem in 1962. Agnon’s writings were set in Eastern Europe and in Israel. His novel, “Only the Other Days” is an Israeli story. “The Bridal Canopy” is a tale of the East European “shtetl.” “A Visitor for a Night” Is a transition story. Agnon also published an anthology of prayers for the High Holidays, titled “Days of Awe.”


Chaim Potok, a prize-winning novelist who writes on American-Jewish themes told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “A great man was just lost to the world, there is always a big gaping void when a man of that stature passes away.” Mr. Potok, author of “The Chosen” and “The Promise” is editor of the Jewish Publication Society in Philadelphia and has reviewed several of Agnon’s works for national publications. He said of the Hebrew author, “He carved a unique path in the world of contemporary literature. When unique voices are stilled, all of us are the losers. As a writer myself I feel particularly saddened by this news.”

Theodore Schocken, president of Schocken Books which has published Agnon’s works since 1931, told the JTA: “For me this is the passing of a lifelong friend. He met my father before I was born 55 years ago and was a frequent visitor in our home in Germany. He tried to teach me to write Hebrew poetry. I was in Stockholm when he got the (Nobel) Prize. It was a wonderful occasion for him, his wife and children. He was a modest man, a humble man. The prize made no change in him.” Mr. Schocken said his company would publish a new collection of 21 Agnon short stories in May.

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