NEW YORK | It’s the latest story that touched, and betrayed, the world.
“Herman Rosenblat and his wife are the most gentle, loving, beautiful people,” literary agent Andrea Hurst said Sunday, anguishing over why she and so many others were taken in by Rosenblat’s story of love born on opposite sides of a barbed-wire fence at a World War II concentration camp.
“I question why I never questioned it. I believed it; it was an incredible, hope-filled story.”
On Saturday, Berkley Books canceled Mr. Rosenblat’s memoir, “Angel at the Fence.” Mr. Rosenblat acknowledged that he and his wife did not meet, as they had said for years, at a sub-camp of Buchenwald, where she purportedly sneaked him apples and bread. The book was supposed to come out in February.
Mr. Rosenblat, 79, has been married to the former Roma Radzicky for 50 years, since meeting her on a blind date in New York. In a statement issued Saturday through his agent, he described himself as an advocate of love and tolerance who falsified his past to better spread his message.
“I wanted to bring happiness to people,” said Mr. Rosenblat, who now lives in the Miami area. “I brought hope to a lot of people. My motivation was to make good in this world.”
Mr. Rosenblat’s believers included not only his agent and his publisher, but Oprah Winfrey, film producers, journalists, family members and strangers who ignored, or didn’t know about, the warnings from scholars that his story didn’t make sense.
Other Holocaust memoirists have devised greater fantasies. Misha Defonseca, author of “Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years,” pretended she was a Jewish girl who lived with wolves during the war, when actually she was not a Jew and she lived, without wolves, in Belgium.
Historical records prove Mr. Rosenblat was indeed at Buchenwald and other camps.
“How sad that he felt he had to embellish a life of surviving the Holocaust and of being married for half a century,” said Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum.
The damage is broad. Publishing, the most trusting of industries, has again been burned by a memoir that fact-checking might have prevented. Berkley is an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), which in March pulled Margaret B. Jones’ “Love and Consequences” after the author acknowledged she had invented her story of gang life in Los Angeles.
Miss Winfrey fell, as she did with James Frey, for a narrative of suffering and redemption better suited for television than for history.
The damage is deep. Scholars and other skeptics as well as fellow survivors fear that Mr. Rosenblat’s fabrications will only encourage doubts about the Holocaust.
“I am very worried because many of us speak to thousands of students each year,” says Sidney Finkel, a longtime friend of Mr. Rosenblat’s and a fellow survivor. “We go before audiences. We tell them a story, and now some people will question what I experienced.”
“This was not Holocaust education but miseducation,” Ken Waltzer, director of Jewish Studies at Michigan State University, said in a statement.