Wartime Lies

I have a follow up piece in the New Republic investigating the Oprah-endorsed story that forms the central premise of Herman Rosenblat’s Holocaust memoir, Angel at the Fence.

Herman’s sister-in-law and a fellow Holocaust survivor speak in public for the first time that Herman’s story is fabricated. Jutta Rosenblat, the wife of Herman’s late-brother Sam, told me that Herman and Roma did not meet outside the fence of the Schlieben concentration camp, and that the couple did not reunite on a blind date in New York City in 1957. This miraculous love story forms the foundation of Herman’s memoir. Herman’s brother was so mad at Herman for inventing the story, that they stopped speaking. When Herman went to visit Sam on his deathbed, Sam wouldn’t talk to him. “Laying in bed, he was looking away from him,” Jutta said. “He didn’t want to have nothing to do with him. Herman never apologized. He felt that this is the right thing to do … They wanted a good book.”

“There was no story. The story came after they married,” Jutta added. “Someone or something pushed him to make up a story. … Now the book is coming out. What can you do about it? What can you do about it?”

Sidney Finkel, a 77-year-old survivor who was liberated with Herman, told me that he had dinner the night before the couple was to appear on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” for the first time, in February 1996. At the Omni Hotel in downtown Chicago, Roma told Finkel that she was not hiding in Schlieben as Herman tells in his story, and was in fact hiding in another part of Poland. “It’s made up,” Finkel said in an exclusive interview. “He likes to makes thing up. He’s very good at it.”

In a statement released to the Associated Press, Berkley Books defended the memoir. “The events that are its background are part of history; the book, however, reflects my memories of how the events affected my life. I was a young child at the time my family was caught up in the Holocaust, and I saw things through a young child’s eyes. But I know and remember what I saw,” Herman says.

But three other survivors, including the famous British Jewish leader Ben Helfgott all are quoted in my New Republic piece saying that Herman’s story is fabricated. “I speak up with great sorrow,” Helfgott said. “I don’t like it. He is my friend, and he will always be my friend. He got intoxicated with it. And so he wants to carry on.”

For more on the controversy swirling around Rosenblat’s memoir, including comments from his two children, read the full piece HERE

And click HERE for TNR’s earlier coverage of the Angel at the Fence.

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13 responses to “Wartime Lies

  1. Antoine Goldfarb

    Hillel Italie of the AP bureau in NYC who covers the book industry has a wire story on the wires now and in print in over 3000 newspapers worldwide, but mostly in USA and Canada, titled

    “Author, publisher defend disputed Holocaust memoir”

    It appeared on C2 page of the NY Times today as well, in print. Seems your two exposes beat the Times but a long shot, they have not done anything on this story, although I am sure they must be aware of it. Maybe they will do their own in-depth look into all this and time it to coincide with the publication date of the book, February 3 or so, and get the news angle on the contretemps that way. And with Ben Helfgott the famous British Olympic athelete in the story you wrote, his quotes, too, most likely the Guardian’s Ed Pilkington their US correspondent in NYC will do something too. It’s not just USA news, it’s also interesting news for Holocaust watchers and others in Europe, especiually Poland, Germany, France, and the UK. Italy probably doesn’t care about this, Spain too. But Germany and France, surely. Since that Misha with Wolves book was first published in France in 1997, before it was exposed too as a hoax.

    But are you saying Mr Rozenblatt’s book is a hoax? You never said that, so i take it you don’t mean it is a hoax. Just highly embellished and maybe not based on much reality, in terms of the romance and apples part. So maybe call it a fabrication.

    Here is what AP said today: But you prob already knew this.

    Mr Italy said:

    QUOTE TEXT

    NEW YORK — The author and publisher of a disputed Holocaust memoir defended the book’s story of love between two survivors, but also called it a work of memory and not of scholarship.

    “This is my personal story as I remember it,” Herman Rosenblat, 79, said in a statement issued Thursday through Berkley Books, which will release his “Angel at the Fence” in February.

    Berkley added its own comments, noting that a leading Holocaust expert, Michael Berenbaum, had found the story’s “general outline” credible, but also saying that “any memoir based on the memories of a survivor is verifiable only by him or her alone.”

    Rosenblat’s book is based on his well-publicized story _ embraced by Oprah Winfrey among others _ of how he met his future wife, Roma Radzicki, on opposite sides of a barbed-wire fence at a Nazi concentration camp. Scholars have questioned whether such an encounter could have happened.

    “The events that are its background are part of history; the book, however, reflects my memories of how the events affected my life. I was a young child at the time my family was caught up in the Holocaust, and I saw things through a young child’s eyes. But I know and remember what I saw,” Rosenblat said in his statement.

    “What I offer in this memoir are the images, sounds, smells and feelings that have stayed in my mind for some seven decades.”

    As the Rosenblats have recounted on numerous occasions over the past decade, he was a teenager in a concentration camp in Nazi-controlled Germany and she was slightly younger, her family pretending to be Christian and living nearby.

    They met at the camp’s fence, where for months she would sneak him apples and bread. Rosenblat was eventually transferred to another camp and lost track of his friend until years after the war, when both were living in New York and met on a blind date. Upon talking about their lives, they recognized each other and were soon married, in 1958.

    The couple live in the Miami area in Florida.

    Since going public with their story in the 1990s, the Rosenblats have been celebrated by Winfrey, among others, and have been the subject of a children’s book, Laurie Friedman’s “Angel Girl.” A feature film is scheduled to begin production next year.

    But scholars, some of whom were quoted in a recent story by The New Republic, have been highly skeptical, saying the layout of the camp _ Schlieben, a sub-camp of Buchenwald _ made it virtually impossible that Rosenblat could have approached the fence without being spotted. According to maps of Schlieben, the area where he and Roma might have met was located next to SS barracks.

    “Some serious historians as well as other historical sleuths have done some pretty serious research on this story,” Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, wrote on her blog on Dec. 15.

    No one questions that Rosenblat was a prisoner, but Lipstadt worries that Holocaust deniers would be encouraged should his meetings with Rosa be disproved.

    “There are also survivors who are very upset about this story,” she wrote. “They just don’t believe it.”

    ___

    CODA NOTA BENE

    Strange,….. some news sites ….ran an abbreviated version of the AP story, which in the abbrev version make it sound much more positive of a news story: maybe AP runs two versions, one long, one short? This one begins:

    NEW YORK (AP) — “Angel at the Fence” is a love story about two Holocaust survivors. But while the story has been embraced by Oprah Winfrey and others, some say it is literally unbelievable.

    Now the author and its publisher are defending the book as a work of memory, not scholarship.

    Berkley Books plans to release Herman Rosenblat’s memoir in February. In it, he recounts how he first met his wife Roma Radzicki through a barbed-wire fence at a Nazi concentration camp. Rosenblat was on the inside, while Radzicki’s family lived nearby, pretending to be Christian. She would sneak him apples and bread through the fence.

    Years later, he says, they met in New York on a blind date and married.

    But scholars have been skeptical of the tale, saying the layout of the camp made it virtually impossible for Rosenblat to approach the fence without being spotted.

    Rosenblat calls it his personal story as he remembers it. The publisher notes that at least one leading Holocaust expert found the story credible, adding “any memoir based on the memories of a survivor is verifiable only by him or her alone.”

    END SHORT VERSION

  2. Antoine Goldfarb

    Notice the second AP version, the short version, does not mention New Republic mention at all, and gives the news a much more positive hook. The longer AP story was much darker, hinting at bad things to come.

    Has a book ever been recalled before publication? Most of these James Frey, Ishmael Beah, JT Hooker (sic) books get published and only get questioned later, after pub. In your case, u called into question a book that has not even seen the light of day yet. Will it? See the light of day, I mean?

    If nothing else, all this pre-publication publicity has created a huge readership-in-waiting base, so the book will likely be catapuled into the bestseller lists by mid February. If it gets out of the starting gate, that is……Wonder what the amazon.com book sales stats say about this book in terms of pre orders? Is it really on the top 20 list of pre order books? Go look!

  3. By the way, whoever the editor was on your second expose, WARTIME LIES, perhaps he or she read the book of the same title by Louis Begley , which as a
    1991 Finalist of the National Book Award for Fiction: …..titled “Wartime Lies”

    Good headline. You deserve a Pulizter for this kind of cultural reporting, sir!

  4. When his sister in law Jutta says in your story: “Someone or something pushed him to make up a story. …”

    HERE IS A THEORY:

    Maybe not someone pushing him, but someTHING, namely this: just a theory but worthy looking into for your third part, if there is a third part:

    After Mr R was shot in that robbery/shooting in the Bronx TV repair shop, with his son now in a wheelchair because of that, and with Mr R going to the hospital for an operation to reduce the bleeding, maybe just maybe the drugs the doctors administered to him post op and pre op and during op, maybe these drugs, PLUS the trauma of the holdup and shooting and being shot, maybe this trauma + medical drugs induced in said Mr R a kind of memory flashback of unimagibable deepness, in which he “saw” his mother at the Nazi camps during the time she saved him, maybe in this dream state of post op trauma recovery drug induced dream state, the Aborigines in OZ where I am from call this the DREAMTIME, maybe Mr R went into the Dreamtime state and imagined his mother sending him an ANGEL, who would throw apples to him over the fence, and this ANGEL would later be ROMA, which is AMOR spelled backwards, which means LOVE in Italian, so maybe Mr R’s recall is really a true story in his mind, and it really happened to him in dreamtime, which he later recalled when writing his bio. It would take a pschiatrist to pry this out of him, and you are not a shrink, Mr Sherman, but maybe you could interview a shrink who might shed some light on how this came to be. I feel Mr R was not looking for money or fame, but just responding to his inner angel, which he glimpsed in the dreamtime state of trauma. This would NOT be the first time this thing happened in human history, many victims of trauma, such as robberies and plane accidents, have these false recalls of true memories. Who is to say?

  5. And….ome to think of it, why are YOU the only journo pursuing this story?

    There are 10,000 good journalists and cultural beat reporters in the USA and you are the only one pursuing this interesting story.

    Is everyone else asleep at the wheel, or is just the Christmas time holidays that has everyone else on holiday in the Carribean and Martinique, and this will all heat up again after the New Year holiday period is over, like the first week of January?

  6. ”Rob Chapman – White Pride World Wide blogs” (google him this way) on this story too, using all the vile antisemitic stuff out there in white supreme land, call his blog entry: “Another Holocau$t Tale Raises Eyebrows”

    http://robchapmanblog.wordpress.com/2008/12/26/another-jewish-holocaut-tale

    When in fact you never mentioned anything about money or greed. The antisem people are just waiting to get their hands on this now, too. Sad day on Earth.

    By the way, Mr Reporter, if you want to see how AMERICA is responding to your excellent gumshoe work, go to the HUFFPOST item from the AP story by Mr Italy, and there are over 250 comments already, 80 percent of them supporting the book, saying “it’s an old man and woman, leave the alone already….”

    and 20 % saying: HOAX!

    Read the comments. They made a great appendicks to your two articles so far. It seems most people WANT to be gullibilzied by all this. THEY WANT TO BELIEVE in Mr R’s story. They need his story, I guess.

    So will Berkeley Press let them have it?

  7. One question, sir. Will Lerner Books that put out the kids book ANGEL GIRL by Laurie Baim Friedman, will that book be recalled now that the entire Herman backstory has been shown to be a lie? Will they still use that kids book for Holocaust education programs? Just curious.

  8. The kids book was recalled, David, above.

    RE: “Frankly, I would not be as offended by a children’s book about this.
    They can pass it off as fiction, and what does a 5 year-old care
    anyway.”

    Actually, the cover of the kids book said, or the inside cover, said:
    “Based on a true story”

    So it was not really being presented as fiction per se. Just a story.
    “Based on a true story”. And remember, it was not written by Herman,
    or in the first person, as his ghostwritten memoir was, but the kids
    book was written by a third party, the well known kids writer Laurie
    Friedman. I tried for two months to contact her in October and
    November, to warn her about the upcoming “storm”, but like everyone
    else in the publishing world, she refused to answer my polite, caring
    emails. Go figure. Now I bet she wishes she talked to me. I could have
    saved her a lot of heart ache. Next time, Laurie.

    Btw, as the lone blogger in Taiwan who brought the “news story” to the
    media’s attention, by bringing a huge silver plattter of detailed and
    verifiable and damning news tips to reporter Gabriel Sherman in NYC,
    in a series of midnight phone calls that went for three days until he
    finally woke up and realized I wasn’t kidding……..and then got off
    his tuches and delivered two powerful exposes based on the “news tips”
    I handed him via a barrage of 50 emails — and one point he told me to
    get lost, and who can blame him, a nobody in Taiwan calling at
    midnight with a cockamamie story about apples and blind dates, things
    Gabe had never heard of before he got “hooked” into this thing by an
    amateur gumshoe “fisherman”…and he deserves a Pulitzer for his deep
    reporting and really blowing the kid off of this Pandora’s Box of
    fabrications….anyways, as the fishermen at the shore, trying to
    land a big fish to tell this fish story to the reading public, and
    more importantly, to the publishing industry — Publishing industry,
    heal thyself, says this son of a surgeon now resting in extreme
    Paradise — I accomplished my self appointed mission to call into
    question these two books. Nobody listened to me at first. I even
    contacted the Times, but they said they were toobusy with other
    pressing matters, so I went to Gabe and he tried to give me the brush
    off too, but I wouldn’t let him go, I knew he could do the job, with
    precision — so now that this is all over,…..I am moving forward,
    again from my home office in southern Taiwan, to create a grassroots
    campaign to ask Oprah to invite Herman on her show one last time, to
    say sorry, hugs all around, show remorse, ask forgiveness and move on
    with his life. It could be a learning curve, a teaching moment, for
    all concerned, no? Read about my project here
    http://ijcm101.blogspot.com or google the blog “Asking Oprah to
    Invite Herman”

    Good idea? What’s your POV on this?

  9. im proud to be an american because at least i know im free.

  10. im a son of the daughters of the american revolution! and i know im free.

  11. Ich bin stolz darauf, ein Amerikaner, wenn ich weiß, zumindest im kostenlos!

  12. interesting site on danny bloom everyone:

    http://whoisdannybloom.shoutpost.com/

  13. Soda Pop. Soda Pop. eins. zwei. drei.

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