Fencing with the truth

Fencing with the truth

A Holocaust memoir was pulled by its publisher this week because its author, Herman Rosenblat, shaded the truth.

He did not entirely lie. Unlike “Binyamin Wilkomirski” – the author of a fraudulent Holocaust memoir who was unmasked as a Swiss man named Bruno Doessekker – Rosenblat and his wife, Roma, appear to be genuine Holocaust survivors.

It is a pity, therefore, that they must suffer the shame of being branded as liars. We are sorry to add to their distress, but perhaps we can sweeten this bitter pill for them.

In “Angel at the Fence,” which was to be published by Berkley Books, Rosenblat wrote – falsely – that he first met the woman who was to become his wife when she (hiding in plain sight as a Christian girl) threw apples and spoke to him over the fence at Schlieben, a subdivision of Buchenwald. The couple reunited 12 years later, Rosenblat wrote, on a blind date at Coney Island.

It’s a touching story, stretching from the bad old world to the bright American landmark that was Coney Island, but the trouble is, it’s not true. Other survivors questioned it to Kenneth Waltzer, director of Jewish studies at Michigan State University, who was researching the Holocaust. As reported in Monday’s New York Times, he discovered that “[t]hat fence was adjacent to the camp’s SS barracks and the SS men there would have been able to spot a boy regularly speaking to a girl on the other side…. Moreover, the fence was electrified and civilians outside the camp were forbidden to walk along the road that bordered the fence.” Waltzer also discovered that Roma Rosenblat had been hiding on a farm 210 miles away from the camp, scarcely close enough to toss an apple, even if she had an arm like Sandy Koufax.

As Waltzer told his hometown newspaper, the Lansing State Journal, “If we want to know about experience in the Holocaust, we need to read the true stories. We don’t need to gather false hope from made-up stories of love at the fence of the concentration camp.”

It is more than wrong, it is dangerous to tamper with the truth; it gives fuel to the Holocaust deniers, and for that Herman Rosenblat deserves our censure.

And yet, however fraudulent the book, the Rosenblats’ love for each other seems to be authentic. They can, at least, take comfort in that fact.