Aharon Appelfeld
Aharon AppelfeldHadas Parush/Flash 90

Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld, a Holocaust survivor who became one of the foremost contemporary Hebrew-language writers, died on Thursday aged 85, officials said.

Israeli public radio said that he passed away at Beilinson hospital near Tel Aviv in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Appelfeld will be buried in Jerusalem's Har Hamenuchot cemetary at 12:00p.m. on Sunday afternoon.

Born in 1932 in a village near what was then the Romanian city of Czernowitz -- today part of Ukraine -- he escaped from a Nazi camp in 1942 after the murder of his mother and the arrest of his father.

He told AFP in a 2010 interview how he fled into the forests, where he was "adopted by a gang of Ukrainian criminals."

He was recruited into the advancing Red Army until 1945 and left the following year for the British-controlled Palestine.

"No one wanted orphans in Europe. The only place we could go was Palestine," he told AFP.

In 1957 he discovered that his father had also survived and they were reunited in Israel.

He published the first of more than 40 novels and collections of poetry in 1962 and won several awards throughout his career. They included the prestigious Israel Prize in 1983 and France's Prix Medicis literary award for best foreign book in 2004 for his 1999 autobiography "Story of a Life."

Although much of his writing is of Jewish life in Europe before, during and after World War II, he refused to be classified as a Holocaust writer.

"You cannot be a writer of death. Writing means you're alive," he said.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said on Twitter that he and his wife Nechama were "deeply saddened at the passing of our cherished author Aharon Appelfeld. May his memory and his works be blessed."

Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) said Appelfeld "left us stories of life that will remain in our collective and personal memory."