The Holocaust Memoir that Wasn't


Dr. Waltzer is the Director, Jewish Studies, at Michigan State University. It was as a result of his research that the Penguin Group decided last week not to publish the now-discredited Holocaust memoir by Herman Rosenblat. Waltzer began raising questions about the book in November. In response the producer of the movie that was to be based on the memoir complained to Waltzer's dean. After Rosenblat admitted he had lied the producer said: "It’s unfortunate he told a lie .... The man is tragically flawed, but his story had value." Waltzer was joined in his doubts about the book by other Holocaust scholars including Deborah Lipstadt, who has blogged about the story here and here and here..

On Saturday, Berkley Books canceled Rosenblat's memoir,"Angel at the Fence." Rosenblat acknowledged that he and his wife did not meet, as they had said for years, at a sub-camp of Buchenwald, where she allegedly sneaked him apples and bread. The book was supposed to come out in February.-- Associated Press

I have learned tonight that Penguin Berkley Press has pulled the memoir, Angel at the Fence, which I and others have been investigating, from publication. Herman Rosenblat has communicated that he invented the false story to Harris Salomon, president of Atlantic Overseas Pictures, and Andrea Hurst, the literary agent, has told the publisher. Penguin Berkley Press will seek restitution.

I am saddened by the whole thing. First, Herman and Roma Rosenblat are of course to be faulted for making up a Holocaust love story and seeking fame and public attention, but their lying and dissimulating are actually understandable. Less understandable is the widespread belief in their story – by the culture makers, including the publisher and movie maker and many thousands of others who have encountered it over a decade.

Second, such belief suggests a broad illiteracy about the Holocaust and about experience in the camps -- despite decades of books, serious memoirs, museums, and movies. This shakes this historian up.

This memoir was at the far end of implausibility, yet until yesterday, 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.

The idea of a prisoner autonomously going to the fence daily, every day, in a Nazi concentration camp and meeting a young girl at the guarded, electrified fence who was allegedly hiding under false identity with her family in the nearby village and who threw him food beggars the imagination. Prisoners in konzentrationslager could not approach guarded fences; persons in hiding with a primary family group would not risk detection by going daily to a camp where SS guards were concentrated. The actual fence in Schlieben was right next to the SS barracks.

So Herman and Roma overreached and actually demeaned their own Holocaust stories -- Herman forgot his brothers who kept him alive in the camps, Roma forgot her own remarkable and sad family story hiding not in Schlieben but elsewhere more than 200 miles away.

But where were the culture makers on this one? What kind of questions did Penguin Berkley Press bring to bear regarding a memoir about a love story set in a concentration camp? What kind of strategy did Harris Salomon embrace to elevate a candy coated Holocaust love story to bring Holocaust education to Middle America? This was not Holocaust education but miseducation. Holocaust experience is not heartwarming, it is heart rending. All this shows something about the broad unwillingness in our culture to confront the difficult knowledge of the Holocaust. All the more important then to have real memoirs that tell of real experience in the camps.

I want to thank those who have worked with me – particularly forensic genealogists Sharon Sergeant and Colleen Fitzpatrick, and amateur Schlieben historian Uwe Schwarz and his associate Jean-Luis Rey. I also want to thank the many survivors, including Ben Helfgott and Sid Finkel, who put their trust in me and shared their knowledge. Gabe Sherman’s reportage at the New Republic has been remarkable, and there will be more to say in the coming days.

Related Links

  • AP: Anger, sadness over fabricated Holocaust story

  • New Republic: Disputed Oprah-Endorsed Holocaust Memoir Contradicted By More Witnesses

  • Deborah Lipstadt comments

  • comments powered by Disqus

    More Comments:

    janice Margaret Paulden - 12/31/2008

    Poor Israel! Poor America!
    Poor lost world!
    I read recently that an attache to
    Goebbel's on being interviewed had answered the question "If you could sum up your experience of the Third Reich in just one word, what would it be?" with the infamous answer "Paradise."
    So now we know where Nazis go!