Dear Reader

Random musings on reading and books from a librarian in training.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Angel at the Fence debunked

Turns out what was dubbed the Holocaust's 'greatest' love story was not quite what it was billed.

If you haven’t read about Angel at the Fence, in it Herman Rosenblat claims that his future wife would toss him an apple over the fence of the concentration camp where he was interred during World War II. He claimed that they met years later on a blind date and have been married for 50 years.

People were entranced – his story appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, he was on Oprah and a book and movie were in the works. The publisher has since pulled plans to publish the “memoir.” A children’s book based on part of the story, “Angel Girl” was pulled from the shelves.

According to CNN, Rosenblat issued the following statement: "Why did I do that and write the story with the girl and the apple, because I wanted to bring happiness to people, to remind them not to hate, but to love and tolerate all people. I brought good feelings to a lot of people, and I brought hope to many. My motivation was to make good in this world.”

One of the many sad aspects is that it sounds like Rosenblat probably could have told his story without the lies. He really did survive a Nazi concentration camp and has been married for 50 years.

A lot of people have egg on their face right now. Others probably feel hurt and betrayed.

And sadly it seems like much of the heartache could have been avoided. After A Million Little Pieces and Love and Consequences – two recent high profile memoirs that were exposed as fakes – publishers really need to place more safeguards in place. I realize a New Yorker level fact checking may not be feasible or affordable. However, there should be some fact checking/ verification process. When something carries the label non-fiction it should mean something.

Apparently some scholars had questioned the veracity of Rosenblat’s tale. According to CNN, Professor Ken Waltzer, the director of Michigan State University's Jewish Studies program, tried contacting the publisher with his concerns, but got no response.

Reading The New Republic’s story that raised the alarm bell, it certainly seems like the writer, Gabriel Sherman, made numerous attempts to reach the publisher and was rebuffed.

It’s unfortunate all around. It’s another black eye for the publishing industry, which once again fell for a story that really was too good to be true. It’s damaging to others who really do have amazing/ moving tales to tell. And sadly, it gives ammunition to Holocaust deniers.

Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University is quoted telling The New Republic: "If you make up things about parts, you cast doubts on everything else. … 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?"

I even feel sorry for Herman Rosenblat, who sounds like he got caught up in forces beyond his control. I’m sure he never imagined when he sent his love story to the local newspaper that he’d wind up on Oprah and the subject of a movie.

But at the end of the day, a lie is a lie. There are no winners in this story and I worry what harm will come of this. There are some brilliant/amazing/moving stories to be told, but will fiascos like this make publishers and readers more leery of them. Hopefully, publishers will start more closely vetting memoirs and pay attention when red flags are raised.


Lerner Pulls 'Angel Girl' --

Anger, sadness over fabricated Holocaust story –

Colby Cosh: The fraud of Angel at the Fence

Holocaust 'greatest' love story a hoax

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