27 December 2008

"Angel at the Fence"--Another Suspect Memoir

A new memoir, titled Angel at the Fence: The True Story of a Love that Survived, by Herman Rosenblat, a 79-year-old Holocaust survivor, has come under scrutiny.

The memoir tells of Rosenblat's experience at Buchenwald; apparently, the teenaged Rosenblat met a young girl at the camp's fence--she on one side, he on the other. She would bring him apples and bread. In New York years later, Rosenblat went on a blind date. Turns out his date was the same young woman who brought gifts to the fence.

The problem? Holocaust historians and Rosenblat's fellow survivors say it's not true. While Rosenblat was held at the concentration camp, scholars and survivors say the camp's layout negates any possibility that Rosenblat would have discovered a space isolated enough that he could meet the girl undetected by guards or other survivors.

The New Republic has published an extensive discussion of Rosenblat's story; the site has added an update as well, in which several people close to Rosenblat claim the story of love beyond barbed wire is concocted:
auther [sic] Herman Rosenblat's sister-in-law and a fellow Holocaust survivor, both speaking publicly for the first time, say that Herman's story is fabricated. Sidney Finkel, a 77-year-old Holocaust survivor who was liberated with Herman, tells TNR that he ate with Herman and Roma Rosenblat 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 tells Sherman in an exclusive interview.
Although people making stuff up and presenting it as autobiography is nothing new (heck, America is all about self-invention). The problem is when we approach matters like the Holocaust. Scholar Deborah Lipstadt is troubled for, as she notes,
"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?" (TNR)
Exactly. Presenting such a work as fiction is one thing; presenting it as fact is another. If it's prove that Rosenblat embellished or fabricated his Holocaust love story, well...to make a concentration camp the backdrop for a romance is rather dismissive, don't you think? You'd think that after the debacle with Margaret Seltzer's "memoir" earlier this year, Penguin would be a bit more attentive to fact-checking.

Do read the piece at TNR, and be sure to read the comments--other survivors are chiming in.

Update: Rosenblat has recanted the story, and Penguin has canceled publication of Angel at the Fence.


Lori said...

This hoax is a tragedy. The Rosenblats have hurt Jews all over and given support to those who deny the holocaust. I don't understand why Atlantic Pictures is still proceeding to make a film based on a lie. I also don't understand how Oprah could have publicized this story, especially after James Frey and given that many bloggers like Deborah Lipstadt said in 2007 that the Rosenblat's story couldn't be true.
There are so many other worthwhile projects based on genuine love stories from the Holocaust. My favorite is the one about Dina Gottliebova Babbitt - the beautiful young art student who painted Snow White and the Seven Dwarves on the children's barracks at Auschwitz. This painting became the reason Dina and her Mother survived Auschwitz. After the end of the war, Dina applied for an art job in Paris. Unbeknownst to Dina, her interviewer was the lead animator on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They fell in love and got married. Now that's a romantic love story! I also admire Dina for her tremendous courage to paint the mural in the first place. Painting the mural for the children caused her to be taken to Dr. Mengele, the Angel of Death. She thought she was going to be gassed, but bravely she stood up to Mengele and he made her his portrait painter, saving herself and her mother from the gas chamber.

Also, Dina's story has been verified as true. Some of the paintings she did for Mengele in Auschwitz survived the war and are at the Auschwitz Birkenau Museum. The story of her painting the mural of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on the children's barrack has been corroborated by many other Auschwitz prisoners, and of course her love and marriage to the animator of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the Disney movie after the war in Paris is also documented.

Why wasn't the Rosenblatt's story checked out before it was published and picked up to have the movie made?? I would like to see true and wonderful stories like Dina's be publicized, not these hoax tales that destroy credibility and trust.

mpandgs said...

Thank you, Lori, for your post and for sharing Dina Gottliebova Babbitt's story here.
Readers can learn a little more here:

All the best to you Lori.