The Plank

Ken Waltzer On Canceled Memoir: "where Were The Culture Makers?"

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Professor Ken Waltzer, the director of Michigan State University's
Jewish Studies program, just sent along this statement on Berkley's
announcement that they have canceled Herman Rosenblat's memoir, Angel at the Fence.
Beginning in late November, Waltzer began raising questions to Herman's
agent and the publisher that the book was fabricated. His numerous
e-mails went unanswered by the publisher. In my own reporting, Waltzer's
research formed the basis for establishing that Herman's story could
not have happened as he told it. 

"I am saddened by
the whole thing," Waltzer writes. "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 question 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."

--Gabriel Sherman 

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