And yes, there’s a lesson for people of faith in this latest publishing nightmare, that I’ll get to in a moment.
Angel At the Fence — the latest fraud — is the second bogus Holocaust memoir to be exposed this year. (see AP story below) The first involved a woman, Misha Defonseca, who claimed to have been raised by wolves during World War II.
Surviving With Wolves: The Most Extraordinary Story of World War II is still available on Amazon.com and it is a most extraordinary fraud.
Angel at the Fence, by Herman Rosenblat, is another flaming whopper. “I wanted to bring happiness to people,” Rosenblat said, explaining why he had lied to millions of people via Oprah and other outlets.
Oprah and her media empire have been duped by other pseudo-memoirists, of course. This is only the latest.
Both books are, miracle stories. And often, people suspend disbelief when they hear a miracle story. After all, our sacred books are full of miracles. Virgins conceiving, dead men rising, water that is turned to wine and water that is walked on. These sacred stories, because they reportedly happened eons ago, cannot be proven or disproven. But millions of us choose to accept them either 1.) because we’ve had the stories drummed into our heads since we were toddlers or 2.) we believe we’ve found an all-knowing, all-powerful God — or more accurately — that this all-knowing, all-powerful God has allowed himself to be glimpsed by us. Many of us even believe we’ve seen glimpses of the miraculous in our own lives over the years.
So, when we hear a story about life conquering death, love overcoming hate, good beating evil, we don’t automatically rule them out. We entertain the possibility that they’re true, even if they involve space, time and matter defying the laws of physics. We may find ourselves rooting for the stories to be true.
We may suspend disbelief, and that’s okay. But we shouldn’t suspend skepticism. Modern-day miracles are only miracles if they are true and they’ll always withstand scrutiny. Otherwise, they’re a fraud. As Ronald Reagan used to say, “Trust, but verify.”
Our skepticism should remain in place even if we hear the modern day miracle proclaimed by Oprah or a pastor or our daily newspaper.
I’ve sat through sermons where the minister presented an urban legend about AIDS as though it were the gospel truth. And Lord knows I’ve heard plenty of dubious — or just plain wrong — statistics. Whenever I encounter a story — in print, from the pulpit, during an interview or anywhere else — I expect it to withstand scrutiny.
This embrace of skepticism isn’t an attack on faith, by the way. Far from it. The Vatican always places miracles under a microscope before certifying them to be legitimate. There’s even a Vatican bureaucracy, The Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, which scrutinizes miracle stories that are linked to potential saints.
By HILLEL ITALIE
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — The publisher of a disputed Holocaust memoir has canceled the book, adding the name Herman Rosenblat to a list of literary fakers and ending his story of meeting his future wife at a concentration camp.
“I wanted to bring happiness to people,” Rosenblat said in a statement issued Saturday through his agent, Andrea Hurst. “I brought hope to a lot of people. My motivation was to make good in this world.”
Rosenblat’s Angel at the Fence had been scheduled to debut in February, but Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), withdrew the memoir after allegations by scholars, friends and family members that his tale was untrue.
“Berkley Books is canceling publication of ‘Angel at the Fence’ after receiving new information from Herman Rosenblat’s agent, Andrea Hurst,” the publisher said in a statement. “Berkley will demand that the author and the agent return all money that they have received for this work.”
A couple of days earlier, Berkley had offered a qualified defense of the book, saying it was a work of memory, a story whose truth was known only to the author.
“This was not Holocaust education but miseducation,” Ken Waltzer, director of Jewish Studies at Michigan State University, said in a statement.
“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.”
Hurst, interviewed Saturday by The Associated Press, declined to offer details of Rosenblat’s book deal, but said the amount of money was “not a great deal.” She said that rights to the book also had been sold to publishers in Poland, France and other countries.
Rosenblat, 79, a resident of the Miami area, was virtually unknown to the general public until the 1990s when he began speaking of how he came to know his wife, Roma Radzicky.
According to Rosenblat and his wife, he was a prisoner at a sub-camp of Buchenwald in Nazi Germany and she a young Jewish girl whose family was pretending to be Christian and lived nearby.
For months, they would meet on opposite sides of a barbed-wire fence, where she would sneak him apples and bread.
Rosenblat was then transferred to another camp and the two lost touch, until the 1950s, when they were reunited by accident — on a blind date — in New York. They soon married and earlier this year celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
The Rosenblats were interviewed twice over the years by Oprah Winfrey, who has called their romance “the single greatest love story … we’ve ever told on the air.” They have inspired a children’s book and a feature film adaptation is scheduled to begin next year.
The film’s producer, Harris Salomon of Atlantic Overseas Pictures, has vehemently defended Rosenblat and said in a statement Saturday that the production would continue. He noted that a “loose and fictionalized adaptation” had been planned all along and that “the integrity and the beauty of the story remains as a work of fiction.”
Salomon also said that the movie, retitled The Flower of the Fence, might address why the Rosenblats apparently “fabricated elements of their wartime love story” and that the author would donate any proceeds from the film to Holocaust related charities.
Unlike such discredited Holocaust memoirists as Misha Defonseca, author of Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years, and Benjamin Wilkomirski, who wrote Fragments, Rosenblat is indeed a survivor and records prove that he was at the Buchenwald camp.
“All of the story about Herman in the concentration camps and the love and survival of him and his brothers, he states is true,” Hurst, his agent, said in a statement.
“The way he lied for years and years was utterly reprehenisble,” said Sidney Finkel, a longtime friend and fellow survivor. “On the other hand, I feel sorry for him, because at a very early age he experienced the Holocaust and never had a chance to grow up in a normal home. Maybe this explains why he did what he did.”
Scholars long doubted the love story, citing, as one example, that the layout of the sub-camp made such an encounter at the fence virtually unthinkable — they would have met right by an SS barracks. Recent articles in The New Republic quoted friends and family members who were angered by Rosenblat, so much so that one of his brothers stopped speaking to him.
Survivors have worried that Rosenblat would encourage Holocaust deniers, and the cancellation likely will revive the debate over why publishers don’t fact check.
Even after such fabrications as James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, publishers have said that with more than 100,000 books being issued each year, fact-checking is too time-consuming and too expensive.
Penguin already has had to break ties with two authors this year.
In March, the publisher pulled Margaret B. Jones’ Love and Consequences after the author acknowledged she had invented her story of befriending gang members in South-Central Los Angeles. One month later, Penguin parted with romance writer Cassie Edwards over allegations that she had lifted numerous passages from other sources.