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

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