DECEMBER 27, 2008
If you haven't read Gabe Sherman's terrific--and heartbreaking--reporting on Herman Rosenblat, the Holocaust survivor who appears to have fabricated a story about his (actual) time in a concentration camp, you really should. (See here and here.)
The academics Gabe interviewed helpfully explain why it's a problem when a Holocaust survivor embellishes his story. As Gabe writes:
Lipstadt, who wrote the 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust, is troubled by the possibility that Herman's love story is fabricated, because she believes it could be co-opted by the Holocaust denial movement. "If you make up things about parts, you cast doubts on everything else," Lipstadt told me. "When you think of the survivors who meticulously tell their story and are so desperate for people to believe, then if they're making stories up about this, how do you know if Anne Frank is true? How do you know Elie Wiesel is true?"
As problematic--or, at least, offensive--is when others invoke the fabricator's moral authority as a survivor to defend the apparent lies or embellishments. Here's what Harris Salomon, the producer of the forthcoming movie based on Rosenblat's story, told Gabe:
"I don't want to impinge on [Michigan State Jewish Studies professor] Ken Waltzer's research, but the fact that he is speaking to you [The New Republic] is bloody repugnant. He's going after a Holocaust survivor without any proof."
In fact, there's ample proof that Rosenblat's story isn't true; by this point, the burden is on Rosenblat to provide corroborating evidence. What's "bloody repugnant" is that Salomon would try to ward off questions this way. The overwhelming majority of Holocaust survivors didn't invent a story, much less sell that story in a book and a movie and repeated appearances on Oprah. To suggest that someone who seems to have done these things is entitled to the respect and deference we accord other survivors is to take a flying leap into moral oblivion. If I were a survivor, I'd be almost as outraged by this as the story itself.