Anger and sadness over Holocaust survivor's fabrications for memoirs

READ STREET

January 04, 2009|By dave rosenthal and nancy.johnston | dave rosenthal and nancy.johnston,dave.rosenthal@baltsun.com and nancy Johnston@baltsun.com

The recent news that another memoir - Angel at the Fence by Herman Rosenblat, who claimed that he met his wife at a concentration camp but recently admitted that they met in New York City after the war - was at least partially fabricated left me both angry and sad.

Angry because such trickery in the story of a Holocaust victim violated the unwritten contract between author and reader. A memoir carries a premium because readers often form an emotional bond with the author. That reaction goes much deeper than appreciating a writing style or plot twist. If a memoir veers from the truth, the author is stealing those emotions.

Angry because publishers should be more careful in vetting books. Last year, Margaret Seltzer's "memoir" of gang life, Love and Consequences, and Misha Defonseca's Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years, were exposed as fakes. And who can forget the spectacular crash of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces?

And angry because such trickery gives ammunition to crackpot Holocaust deniers.

But I was saddened that Rosenblat - a true Holocaust victim and concentration camp survivor - will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Not for the quiet heroism of facing overwhelming evil. Not for having the strength to build a new life. Not for a long life and marriage.

Here's what some Read Street readers said:

Over the past months, I have received this story - always the same - in an email countless times. It's well-written. Quite a tear-jerker. I never believe any of these email stories, but a lot of people have believed this one, since there is always some sort of note assuring the recipients of the truth of the event. - Eve

Mr. Rosenblat's lies have made it harder for scholars and survivors of the holocaust to be believed when they speak in public. - David

Misrepresentation is still wrong, just as it is in Mr. Rosenblat's case. I still believe that he is, as well as all holocaust survivors, a national treasure to be cherished. ... He paid for sins that he never committed and he did his time at Buchenwald. Let the poor man alone. - Esso

Retitle it as a fiction based on fact then go forward. How many books have we read and loved that just weren't exposed. A well written book is a book worth reading. Let's look to Wall Street for the BIG falsehoods. - Georgia

Dave Rosenthal

Would you read this book, knowing it was at least partially falsified? Let us know in an e-mail or comment on Read Street.

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