x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Scholars prove author rewrote his own history

A love story set in a Nazi camp is revealed as fiction, dealing yet another blow to publishers while supplying fuel for deniers of the killings.

Herman and Roma Rosenblat in their Florida home. Mr Rosenblat falsely wrote in his memoir that he met his wife at a concentration camp.
Herman and Roma Rosenblat in their Florida home. Mr Rosenblat falsely wrote in his memoir that he met his wife at a concentration camp.

NEW YORK // The revelation that a Jewish survivor of Nazi death camps fabricated parts of his memoirs is not only an embarrassment to the publishing industry but of concern to historians who fear the incident will give ammunition to Holocaust deniers. US publishers, already hit by similar scandals in recent years, were left reeling after they were hoodwinked again, this time by Herman Rosenblat, who appeared twice on the Oprah Winfrey television show to publicise his book Angel at the Fence: The True Story of a Love that Survived. Mr Rosenblat, 79, told his agent last weekend he made up the pivotal scenes, which describe him meeting his future wife when she threw apples to him over a fence at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Although he did survive Buchenwald and other camps, he did not meet his wife, Roma Radzicky, until 12 years after the Second World War when they were both living in the United States. Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, was one of the first historians to believe the story was not true more than a year ago. The New Republic magazine investigated the scholarly controversy and published its expose last week, prompting Mr Rosenblat's admission of guilt. "When I first heard about the story, I thought something was not quite right. A group of genocide scholars who were with me thought I was too cynical and sceptical while a lot of other people attacked me," she said. "But anyone who heard the story - the agent, publisher, movie producer - should have asked themselves: does this make sense?" Even after the truth came out, Harris Salomon, the president of Atlantic Overseas Pictures, said he would go ahead with his US$25 million (Dh92m) film about Mr Rosenblat but as a work of fiction. Ms Lipstadt has been writing her doubts about the story in a blog since last December. In her latest entry, on Sunday, she revealed a letter sent to her from Mr Salomon about six months ago. He rejected her doubts in the letter, telling her he "may be more of a Holocaust expert than you". Ms Lipstadt's reputation as a Holocaust scholar received worldwide attention when she was sued for libel by David Irving, a notorious Holocaust denier, in a British court in 2000. She and Penguin, the publisher of her book Denying the Holocaust, won their case. Holocaust deniers seek to prove that far fewer than six million Jews were killed by the Nazis. "The Holocaust deniers will use the Rosenblat case, just give them time," Ms Lipstadt said. "But I'm just as worried about the trivialisation of the Holocaust by those who want to provide entertainment. There's no need to embellish to make it more heart-rending. The facts are hard enough." Kenneth Waltzer is director of Jewish studies at Michigan State University and did a lot of the research that confirmed Mr Rosenblat's story was false. Among the facts Mr Waltzer uncovered concerned the sub-camp of Buchenwald where Mr Rosenblat was held. It had an electric fence and civilians were forbidden to walk along the road that bordered the camp. He also found online documentation proving that Mr Rosenblat's future wife and her family lived more than 300km away, disguised as Christians to hide their Jewish identities. "This memoir was at the far end of implausibility yet ? no one connected with packaging, promoting, and disseminating it asked questions about or investigated it. Some actively resisted such investigation and tried to shut mine down," Mr Waltzer said in statement. Berkley Books, an imprint of the Penguin group, said it was cancelling the book and would demand the author and agent return the less than $50,000 received for the work. "I believed the teller," Andrea Hurst, Mr Rosenblat's agent, told The New York Times. "He was in so many magazines and books and on Oprah. It did not seem like it would not be true." As for Mr Rosenblat himself, he said his intention was to tell the story of the Holocaust as effectively as possible. "My motivation was to make good in this world. In my dreams, Roma will always throw me an apple, but I now know it is only a dream." Ms Lipstadt said she did not believe Mr Rosenblat was motivated by malicious or greedy impulses. "He didn't get so much money that it would have changed his life. But what started as a newspaper story just got more and more attention, a book and a film, so that he was in over his head." Greater soul-searching is likely among publishers, which have been publicly hoodwinked several times in recent years and are now hit hard by the recession. This year, Misha Defonseca admitted she made-up her best-selling memoir about being saved by wolves while hiding from the Nazis in Europe. Mr Rosenblat's lie affected the publication of another book. Lerner Publishing Group announced yesterday it was pulling Laurie Friedman's Angel Girl, a children's book inspired by Mr Rosenblat's story. Ms Friedman said the Rosenblats had reviewed the manuscript and assured her the details of their story were authentic. sdevi@thenational.ae