Monday, December 29, 2008

Hope Filled - But Sadly Hoax

I question why I never questioned it. I believed it; it was an incredible, hope-filled story.
confesses literary agent Andrea Hurst about Herman Rosenblat's Angel at the Fence told how he and his wife met and fell in love on opposite sides of a barbed-wire fence as children in a concentration camp. And amazingly, he met the girl who'd saved his life years later - on a blind date!

Oprah featured the couple on her show. (You can see them below in a CBS news report) :

But holocaust historians and journalists questioned the veracity of aspects of the story (specifically that she threw him food and thus kept him alive) and the plug was pulled on the book. The movie deal too was off.

Rosenblat, though, says that he told the story the way he remembered it.

You may remember that there have been a whole string of "bogus memoirs" over the past few years, and one of the more recent featured another holocaust survivor, Misha Fonseca, with the incredible story of having been saved by wolves.

And I heard from a friend of another memoir set during the holocaust, this time by an elderly woman living in Britain, and that too was axed shortly before it was due to come out, after a prominent holocaust genealogist questioned some aspects of it. The author claims it was entirely true and those who have read it gave it very positive reviews. (Not mentioning specifics or giving links here because neither author or publisher would probably want the attention - but very sadly, the affair dealt a heavy financial blow to the small press in question.)

Anyway, it will be interesting to see if Oprah hauls Rosenblat up on her show to give him a good talking to as she did with James Frey!

(Thanks Chet for forwarding the link. The story is also in the Guardian today.)


Sean said...

This hoax is a tragedy. The Rosenblats have hurt Jews all over and given support to those who deny the holocaust. I don't understand why Atlantic Pictures is still proceeding to make a film based on a lie. I also don't understand how Oprah could have publicized this story, especially after James Frey and given that many bloggers like Deborah Lipstadt said in 2007 that the Rosenblat's story couldn't be true.
There are so many other worthwhile projects based on genuine love stories from the Holocaust. My favorite is the one about Dina Gottliebova Babbitt - the beautiful young art student who painted Snow White and the Seven Dwarves on the children's barracks at Auschwitz. This painting became the reason Dina and her Mother survived Auschwitz. After the end of the war, Dina applied for an art job in Paris. Unbeknownst to Dina, her interviewer was the lead animator on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They fell in love and got married. Now that's a romantic love story! I also admire Dina for her tremendous courage to paint the mural in the first place. Painting the mural for the children caused her to be taken to Dr. Mengele, the Angel of Death. She thought she was going to be gassed, but bravely she stood up to Mengele and he made her his portrait painter, saving herself and her mother from the gas chamber.

Also, Dina's story has been verified as true. Some of the paintings she did for Mengele in Auschwitz survived the war and are at the Auschwitz Birkenau Museum. The story of her painting the mural of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on the children's barrack has been corroborated by many other Auschwitz prisoners, and of course her love and marriage to the animator of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the Disney movie after the war in Paris is also documented.

Why wasn't the Rosenblatt's story checked out before it was published and picked up to have the movie made?? I would like to see true and wonderful stories like Dina's be publicized, not these hoax tales that destroy credibility and trust.

bibliobibuli said...

that's an amazing story and thanks for posting it

it isn't just holocaust memoirs that are proving to be bogus as you will see if you follow the link to my earlier posts, but i think these authors are getting caught out much more often because of very dedicated academics who are concerned with more objective truth. because documenting the holocaust accurately is incredibly important.

was rosenblat "lying" though? could it be that his own memory of events was false? there is a lot of documentation about false memory and the trauma of being in a death camp and on the brink of starving to death may have caused him to construct a more loving and palatable "truth"

publishers have to check facts but for many there is only so far they can go because of their own lack of resources

as i understand it the plug has been pulled on the movie

BorneoExpatWriter said...

I agree with Sharon. Were they "lying"? If their intent was to merely write a true memoir according to what they remembered to be true about events that took place 60 years ago, then they're going to make historical errors -- they are not historians! What we recall from our own childhood is merely our version of what took place, what we believed, with our limited insights, to be true, accurate, but in fact, we may get some details wrong, or make wrong assumptions about what our parents did or did not do, without bothering to ask them what was actually going on back then that led to certain events; stuff that we may have totally forgotten about or didn’t even know about because our parents kept the facts from us, or we even blocked it out because we were so upset -- and sometimes for the wrong reasons and at the wrong person!

How historically accurate should memoirs or even autobiographies be? The fact that they left our certain details that would put them in a bad light, wrong? The fact they gloss over details because they feel it's not "important" or because they don't wish to embarrass someone who may still be living, deceitful? For example, when I was younger, I did some things that I'm pretty ashamed of. Do you think I'm going to put that in my memoir? I'll gloss over certain dark periods of my life and just say I did some stupid things without being too specific. Does that make me a liar?

A good biographer will find errors and discrepancies in a person's life because they have different sources, or eye-witnesses, or relatives that could shed light on something. I'm reading A Life of Jung by Ronald Hayman, a great biography on Carl Jung and Hayman is constantly pointing out stuff that Carl Jung was not particularly truthful about; he even got major dates wrong when such and such meeting or conversation took place; but was Jung lying? Or was he merely relying on faulty memory? Let me see did I meet Freud in that conference in Vienna in 1910? Or 1911? Or was it in Salzburg the previous year, or was it Zurich?

I'm sure my own diaries (I'm in vol 32) contains lots of factual inaccuracies, especially when I'm mentioning in passing something I may have done or met years before without bothering to verify when it did in fact happened. Recently while doing this series of blogs on The Story Behind the Story of Lovers and Strangers Revisited I made several errors which I later caught, because I made some wrong assumptions that surprised me, about the order in which the stories were written. Finally after about ten of them, I had to dig out my records going back 20 years and painstakingly noted the order the stories were in fact written! Was I lying? No! I merely forgot or may some wrong assumptions! Did I go back and correct those early blogs where mistakes were made, yes! Writing books is not easy – there’s often hundreds of pages covering many years! If 99% is accurate, and 1% questionable, does that justify calling it a hoax or a blatant fraud? Where do we draw the line? Later, we can discover how far the authors went, as in Frey’s and other more recent cases; perhaps in truth it is a fraud! But what if it is not? The damage is already done!

Now if the authors purposely fabricated parts of their story to embellish it like Frey, then that’s another case and I agree with Sean and they should be taken to task. And if they are going to do that on purpose, then just call it what is it, fiction! No harm in that! That’s what Frey originally did, but fiction doesn’t sell like memoirs so his agent/publisher made a conscious decision to “lie”. But pulling Holocaust memoirs because some nit-picking historian who didn’t live through that hell (I’m assuming he didn’t or was not at that particular concentration camp) questions some parts, yet everything else seems historically accurate, doesn’t seem fair either! Hell, historians disagree over “facts” all the time!

So if two historians disagree over a fact, which one is correct? Maybe they both are, and it’s all about perspective. So let’s not be so quick to pull off books or shoot down movies. “Sleepers” was seriously questioned, but what a powerful story that was and I’m glad it was written and filmed and even if that author was fudging on some of the minor details about his own life, there was a larger truth to the story – I’m glad the publisher didn’t pull it.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness at least "Memoirs of A Geisha" is real! It'd break my heart if it was another cooked up story!

- Poppadumdum

dan said...

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