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Penguin’s Holocaust Memoir Under Fire for Being Fabricated

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Gabriel Sherman of The New Republic first broke the news that Angel at the Fence by Herman Rosenblat, Holocaust memoir, might be fabricated. Professor Kenneth Waltzer, the director of the Jewish Studies program at Michigan State University, became aware of the story and was suspicious of the details Rosenblat recounted. Waltzer was convinced that the way in which Rosenblat tells the story of meeting his childhood love in Holocaust camps was not logistically possible. Waltzer contacted Berkley, the publisher, and received no response.

Sherman himself attempted to read the editor but instead was directed to the publicist who claimed that the book had been fact checked. Penguin stands by the memoir even though more individuals are coming forward, including Rosenblat’s sister-in-law, to state Rosenblat’s claim is fabricated. Three other survivors, at least one friend of Rosenblat, also claim that the story is false saying that Rosenblat became “intoxicated” with the response to his story.

According to Sherman, Penguin’s fact checking was “bare bones” or “nonexistent” and that a simple phone call to Holocaust scholars would have raised serious red flags.

I do wonder whether this will end Oprah’s endorsement of memoirs altogether and whether fictionalized memoirs will become a new genre.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

41 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 01:12:58

    I know for a fact that the fictional memoir scandals are hurting authors with real memoirs to sell – no one wants to be caught out. But they wouldn’t be caught out if they weren’t damn dumb and gullible about these authors!

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  2. NKKingston
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 04:44:28

    Fictional Memoirs are a reasonably popular genre – Memoirs of Geisha comes to mind – but I’m guessing it’s not quite as lucrative as ‘Real’ memoirs. There have been so many fabricated memoir stories recently that it’s getting ridiculous. The fact checking seems to be as fabricated as the memoirs themselves if books where a Jewish girl seeking her parents in Auschwitz being cared for by wolves, a painfully stereotyped story of a white girl running drugs for the Bloods and many others are checking past them. Most of these things seem to fall apart the minute family is contacted, let alone police records and social historians.

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  3. Anion
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 05:56:33

    Of course it’s fabricated. Penguins weren’t in the Holocaust.

    ReplyReply

  4. Ann Somerville
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 06:16:08

    Penguins weren't in the Holocaust.

    Sure they were. Why do you think there are so few gay, Jewish and Roma penguins around now?

    [please, no one kill me. It's a terrible, tasteless joke.]

    ReplyReply

  5. Gennita Low
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 09:34:30

    Can I write a memoir of a past life as a penguin during the Holocaust? :grin: That way, I’m covered:

    1) Family in this life can’t disprove it
    2) Editors don’t have to check the facts too closely
    3) All my penguin family members and friends are long gone or reincarnated

    Hee, sorry. //pointing accusing finger at Ann// Ann made me do it.

    ReplyReply

  6. Anion
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 09:51:29

    Lol, Ann and Gennita! :-)

    ReplyReply

  7. Kat
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 10:06:58

    IMHO fake memoirs have been a popular genre for a long time — Daniel Defoe’s are still in print and widely read. A Journal of the Plague Year and Moll Flanders were both assumed by some to be non-fiction when they were first published.

    That’s what always boggles me about A Million Little Pieces. It’s not that Frey wrote a fake memoir, but that he ripped off Defoe’s eighteenth-century style of capitalisation and it seems no-one saw any significance until after it was published. I can’t believe that’s true, but when I read about what happened with that book, it rarely comes up as a way to have been able to tell it was a fake.

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  8. Ann Somerville
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 14:05:45

    @Gennita Low:

    You write it, some nong will print it :)

    As this respected science column repeatedly demonstrates, fact checking is a lost art. We used to assume people connected with books and newspapers were smarter than the population average. They might well be, but the average education and intelligence must be woefully low if that’s the case.

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  9. Gennita Low
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 17:05:41

    Ann@8

    I even have two titles ready: THE SECRET LIFE OF A FLIPLESS PENGUIN

    and

    MEMOIRS OF A FLIPPING PENGUIN.

    Okay, it’s the Christmas eggnog. Sorry again.

    ReplyReply

  10. Ann Somerville
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 17:27:16

    @Gennita Low:

    Oh dear.

    Say goodnight, Gracie :)

    ReplyReply

  11. Allen Bean
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 06:07:41

    RE your first sentence:

    Gabriel Sherman of The New Republic first broke the news that Angel at the Fence by Herman Rosenblat, Holocaust memoir, might be fabricated.

    No he didn’t. The news was first broken on your very own blog, but you would not allow the poster to post there, remember. Long before the TNR piece. And actually, RushPRNews had a story on the possible fabrication of the book way back in mid October. Google for “Oprah Truth and Consequences” and you will see how news was FIRST broken. Not that anybody read it, or cared back then, but it’s true, the news was BROKEN, scooped, back then in October and again in early December in the San Diego Jewish World news site.

    LINK

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  12. Ann Somerville
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 06:17:45

    @Allen Bean:

    The poster calling himself “Danny Bloom” in comments may indeed have had a scoop, but I can’t think of a less impressive or credible way to go about using it. Why didn’t he just email Jane instead of jumping in on an unrelated post and sounding so cryptic, and frankly, crazy? I saw his comments and though, uh oh, lunatic, and when Jane banned him, I couldn’t blame her at all.

    Next time you or Mister Bloom have a big exposé, maybe you could think about the best way to release it. Spamming a blog isn’t one of them.

    ReplyReply

  13. Allen Bean
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 06:19:43

    ATOMIC TYPO!

    Sherman himself attempted to read the editor

    jane, u meant REACH the editor, not READ the editor, atomic typo there…

    i mistype all the time, so i am always alert to this. fix if time allows

    Your friend who you interviewed Hillel Italie did a great AP story on this today, too.

    Allen

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  14. Allen Bean
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 06:22:14

    Next time I will tell him to follow the rules. He is a bit of a wild card, true. He was just trying to sound the alarm, I guess, and nobody would listen. But you are right, spamming a blog is not the way to do it. I will speak to him next week. Good point.

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  15. Allen Bean
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 06:27:24

    Why didn't he just email Jane instead of jumping in on an unrelated post and sounding so cryptic, and frankly, crazy? I saw his comments and though, uh oh, lunatic, and when Jane banned him, I couldn't blame her at all.

    I am told he did email Jane, politely. He was just trying to inform her. She told him if he posted again he would be banned. So he had to keep silent. So then he emailed Gabriel Sherman in New York and he took the story, dug deep and came up with two powerful exposes. Great reporting, and important stories he wrote. About the publishing business, yes.

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  16. Allen Bean
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 06:28:41

    Sure they were. Why do you think there are so few gay, Jewish and Roma penguins around now?

    [please, no one kill me. It's a terrible, tasteless joke.]

    Anne, I am shocked u would post such stuff here……WHY? Can you please remove it? It is an affront to all of us, well, some of us.

    ReplyReply

  17. Ann Somerville
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 06:33:03

    @Allen Bean:
    I have no power to remove it, but I ask Jane to as it’s caused offence. I apologise sincerely for my tasteless joke. I do not in any way think the Holocaust was funny, and was just riffing off Anion’s silliness. I should not have.

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  18. Allen Bean
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 06:45:50

    Thanks, Anne. I figured you were just having fun, and I know you didn’t mean offense, but on the chance there might be some Holocaust survivors reading this blog, because of the big news recently, it would be nice to remove it quietly. I know you didn’t mean to offend. But I am Jewish, just 32, but when I saw your joke I really was offended. Now I understand the riffing you were doing. But ouch, dear, please, try to get it erased later….such a time in history is not something to joke at……and I know you didn’t mean it, but just got carried away……O Life!

    ReplyReply

  19. Ann Somerville
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 07:09:59

    @Allen Bean:

    I’ve replied to your email but I’m telling you this now, in public. Please don’t write to me privately. I already responded to your message in public, and apologised in public. I see no reason for you to repeat the sentiments in private email, and I wonder what your motivation is. My joke was off-colour, but as you haven’t commented about the other comments of a similar kind, I am suspicious about your singling me out.

    Leave me out of your obsession over this Rosenblat business, please.

    ReplyReply

  20. Allen Bean
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 07:46:17

    Dear, there is no obessession here on my part. And as for your paranoia Anne, I did not single you out, I wrote you a nice email on your website which allows for emails, I thought that was a nice way to reach you, but i guess that fact that I brought up the joke again in that email, and sort of noted that maybe your tasteless joke about the Holocaust maybe might have had something to do with the way Jews are perceived in white, Christian Australia, and maybe you are antisemitic deep down after all….I didn’t think so at first. but not that you reply in such a paranoid manner, singling you out, why on Earth would I do that…i must conclude that you some issues with Jews. O Australia, I thought I knew ye……This is not the first blog in Oz that has treated me this way over this….I think Australians probably do have bent views toward Jews because of lack of education. Sad. Anne. I will never write to you again, and I wish i had never met you here. OUCH.

    ReplyReply

  21. Emmy
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 09:28:20

    I knew there were some people in this blog universe here just to amuse me, but lo! there are TWO. And they are being amusing.

    ReplyReply

  22. Angie
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 12:38:21

    It sounds to me like “Danny Bloom” isn’t the only one who missed those Blog Etiquette 101 lessons. Good grief….

    Back on topic, I really wish all these creative people would just write their novels already and leave the memoirs to the folks who had real experiences. :/

    Angie

    ReplyReply

  23. Anion
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 14:04:34

    FWIW, Ann, I didn’t think your joke was particularly tasteless, and there’s always going to be someone offended by something totally innocuous.

    I certainly don’t think there’s any call, any reason at ALL, for Mr. Bean to leap in here and start calling you an anti-Semite. And claiming that it’s somehow your fault that Australia is on the whole anti-Semitic (says he; I’ve never been there so I can’t say yes or no to that.)

    Did you realize before how powerful you are, Ann? You’ve apparently influenced an entire nation!!! WOW.

    ReplyReply

  24. Anion
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 14:15:46

    Oh, and btw…the New Republic article linked to in comments of the original “Danny Bloom” post clearly indicates that there have been discussions about–and publicly-expressed doubts about–the veracity of this story at least since March 2008, which was quite a few months before Danny Boy started spamming here. So you didn’t “break” any story or “scoop” anyone.

    And if you’d wanted to do that, couldn’t you have thought of a better venue? Seriously. I mean absolutely no disrespect to the Ja(y)nes or anyone else–I obviously enjoy the blog and participating in the community–but it’s a romance review blog. Why in the world would you think Jane would be interested in writing an expose of a holocaust memoir?

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  25. Ann Somerville
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 17:04:57

    You've apparently influenced an entire nation!!! WOW.

    Makes a change from bringing the careers of otherwise successful and beloved authors crashing down with a single well-hurled insult :)

    It was a tasteless remark, and I really should have known better. But Mr Bean/Mr Bloom seems to imagine people’s recoiling from him in horror is to do with his religion, rather from his tendency to behave like that irritating monomaniac at a party, who pins you against a wall to expound on the heinous injustice of Hollywood remaking Star Trek, and then follows you out into the car park and harangues you through your car window while you desperately try to leave. Then he calls you up at home because he’s found your telephone number through the friend who works at the DMV. By which time any sympathy you might have had for his position on Star Trek has vanished in a panicked cloud of “keep that creepy damn stalker away from me.”

    Someone should explain to Mr Bloom/Bean that some people are worried about stalkerish behaviour because they’ve been stalked.

    I would hate his idiocy to affect anyone else’s response to anti-semitism, or to lessen the credibility of anyone raising it. Offending Mr Bean or any Holocaust survivor was not my intention, and having caused the offence, I acknowledge I was wrong. But there’s an absolute limit to how many times I want to be told exactly the same thing in exactly the same way, only with a few extra lines of insult, when I have already acknowledged my fault and apologised.

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  26. Allen Bean
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 20:44:06

    Apology accepted. And I apologize. too. Sorry for the earlier stuff, Ann. I was having a bad hair day. Over and out.

    This is a romance fiction blog, and I realize now I had taken the train to the wrong station by mistake. When I first chanced upon the Ishmael Beah blog posts from last year, that is where I had thought the station was. But I was on the wrong train. Will be more careful next time.

    I guess now that the only main reason the Beah book was being discussed here was because an Australian newspaper had written two big exposes of the book, and you being Australians, it was a kind of topic of the day. I see now. Anyways, thanks for alerting me to those two long articles in the Australian with your post back then, because I found the way the Australian newspaper handled the investigation into the Beah case to be very good and instructional and I learned a lot from that post. For everything else, sorry sory, didn’t mean to be such a nut here. I am really a very nice person. When I am not having a bad hair day.

    Now I am really over and out here, roger, and I do apologize for my uncivilized behaviour, and I do hope you will all accept my apologies, and now I will be gone….

    ReplyReply

  27. Ann Somerville
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 20:54:49

    you being Australians

    Let me take this opportunity to welcome all my new countrymen. Since Australia’s white and Christian and anti-semitic, those of you who are not white, not Christian, or who quite like Jewish people, will please to be not taking advantage of your dual nationality.

    Australia Day is Jan 26, no one knows the national anthem which half of us think is Waltzing Matilda, the national diet is fish and chips or Domino’s washed down with execrable beer, our cricket team is full of womanisers, and we dangle babies over crocodiles for fun. Pay attention to all this, as you will be tested on it.

    Allen, mate, does a bad hair day in your part of the world mean the follicles are growing inwards towards your brain? Because that’s the only explanation I can see for your confusion.

    ReplyReply

  28. Allen Bean
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 23:53:19

    Allen, mate, does a bad hair day in your part of the world mean the follicles are growing inwards towards your brain? Because that’s the only explanation I can see for your complete confusion.

    Yes, Ann, I plead guilty as charged, a bad hair day in my part of the world does mean the follicles are growing inwards towards my brain. Sigh. And not only that, I really don’t have much more hair up there at my age, 65 going on 90. So what’s a bald(ing) man to do? I plead guilty on all counts and apologize for being very very confused earlier.

    Sorry.

    And I like your humour, above, you are a good sport, a good egg, I can see, and please do accept my apologies. I didn’t mean you were an antisemite……That was a stupid thing to say on my part.

    Good luck with your writing projects, and please DO forgive this confused aging gent. He meant well, but as usual, he effed up….

    Story of me life,,,,

    ReplyReply

  29. Anion
    Dec 29, 2008 @ 05:41:25

    Thanks for the welcome, Ann! I’ve never been to Australia. :-)

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  30. Mireya
    Dec 29, 2008 @ 13:18:17

    I guess those that have true stories waiting to be told are most definitely going to have it a lot harder to get published now. This is what, the 3rd fake one this year alone? I always thought that publishers actually verified the information when they contracted biographies, etc. Let’s face it, this particular story has been circulating for years and it isn’t until now that the lie is revealed? I find that interesting too.

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  31. Ann Somerville’s Journal » Blog Archive » Faking it
    Dec 30, 2008 @ 02:10:18

    [...] Just to get all my residual 2008 bitter cynicism out of the way before New Year (I shall be all butterflies and farting rainbows in 2009, just watch me), I wonder where those who thought it was homophobic to question whether a ‘gay male’ author was in fact a woman, and who screamed blue bloody murder about the right to privacy and to pull the wool over readers’ eyes, are now? Why aren’t they accusing everyone of anti-semitism for talking about the fraud by Herman Rosenblat and his alleged Holocaust memoirs? [...]

  32. Ann Somerville
    Dec 30, 2008 @ 02:11:31

    @Anion:

    I've never been to Australia

    I insist you rectify that as soon as possible :)

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  33. Anion
    Dec 30, 2008 @ 05:42:01

    But I’m afraid to fly. :-( Especially to Australia. Isn’t there some weird air stream or something there that makes planes sometimes plummet thousands of feet in a few seconds? It happened to Blair’s daughter once, if memory serves.

    If I can find the time and money to take a boat there–um, if there is a boat that goes there–I will, though, because I’d love to see it.

    ReplyReply

  34. Ann Somerville
    Dec 30, 2008 @ 06:11:33

    Isn't there some weird air stream or something there that makes planes sometimes plummet thousands of feet in a few seconds?

    Uh, no? I’ve flown back and forth a few times from Britain, and I’m still here. There are boats, though. Better write a really incredible memoir and flog it to pay for the fare :)

    ReplyReply

  35. Anion
    Dec 30, 2008 @ 08:20:37

    *snort* Too bad Chuck Barris already stole the CIA assassin angle for Confessions… I could totally have written that one.

    There is some sort of air pocket that only occurs in the Southern Hemisphere but I can’t find it. It’s really rare. I remember it was all over the news when Blair’s daughter’s plane hit one, some years ago. Stuff like that sticks in my little terrified-to-fly brain. :-)

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  36. Kat
    Dec 30, 2008 @ 10:22:05

    Anion:

    Air pockets are bad, but giant waves may be even worse:

    http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Rogue-wave-(oceanography)

    Personally I like travel both by air and sea, but I would be hard pressed to say which is more (or less) terrifying.

    ReplyReply

  37. Loralei
    Dec 30, 2008 @ 15:48:27

    Jeeehezus. It would be nice to see at least one post at Dear Author not turn into the Ann Sommerville show.

    ReplyReply

  38. Anion
    Dec 30, 2008 @ 16:44:54

    @Kat:

    AAAAAH!! IS THERE NO PLACE SAFE?!

    I’m going to crawl into a hole and never leave.

    ReplyReply

  39. Ann Somerville
    Dec 30, 2008 @ 16:58:55

    @Loralei:
    Happy New Year to you, dear.

    ReplyReply

  40. Josh Baum
    Jun 07, 2009 @ 01:13:11

    What about the other Penguin published book, “The Mascot” by Mark Kurzem. It’s a story about his father, Alex who after many years of silence claims to have been “adopted” by a Nazi military unit during WWII in what is now Belarus. The elder Kurzem claims he was a Jewish orphan and it was no secret to at least one of the unit’s soldiers that he was Jewish. I read the book and there is no substantiation one way or another if he was Jewish. Witnesses are all dead and it appears to be just speculation. Take away the Jewish factor and it’s not even a story. Could this be another “Angel at the Fence”? Oh and one more thing…the coincidence that Penguin published this book isn’t the only similarity…like Rosenblat in “Angel at the Fence”, Kurzem’s father is also a retired TV repairman.

    ReplyReply

  41. Danny Bloom
    Jun 07, 2009 @ 01:14:04

    This is about a new book, 2007 really, by Mark Kurzem in Australia
    called THE MASCOT, a friend tells me he thinks it MIGHT be another
    Holocaust era hoax, because the main character who says he is Jewish
    is very likely not Jewish and never was Jewish. Have you heard of this
    brouhahah and did the book get good reviews in OZ? See my quick blog
    post here of the book back story. It looks like another hoax was done.
    Anybody know? I never heard of the book before today and have not read
    it. Who is Mark Kurzem? Has been ordeded by his lawyers and agent NOT
    to talk to media about this. WHY? Another Herman Rosenblat style coverup until
    the media finally makes him talk? I dunno.

    ReplyReply

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