Herman Rosenblat came to the attention of Oprah Winfrey in 1996, over 10 years ago when Herman’s love story with Roma Rosenblat began to pick up momentum. Herman began telling a fantastical tale that everyone bought, despite the improbable details.
Herman was imprisoned in Buchenwald, a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, at a young age. At age 12 he was forced to carry bodies from the gas chamber to the crematorium. During one of these trips, Rosenblat noticed a young girl, maybe age 9, standing behind a tree across the barb wire fence.
The girl would not talk to him at first, until he spoke to her in Polish. He asked her if she had something to eat and she responded by throwing him an apple and some bread. This became an evening ritual until Rosenblat was transferred to a different camp. Rosenblat immigrated to New York and was set up on a blind date with a young woman, Polish like him. During the evening, Roma, the young Polish woman, shared that during the War she would throw apples and bread to a young boy in a concentration camp. Herman knew immediately it was the girl from Buchenwald and this became the story of “Angel at the Fence.”
It was a story that was so heart warming that everyone wanted to believe it was true, no matter how brow raising the circumstances. (The AP reporter wrote before the hoax was revealed: "It all seems too remarkable to be believed.”) Oprah called the romance “the single greatest love story” she had ever aired.
The fundamental reason that Rosenblat’s fabrication was believed by so many is the desire that we all have for hope and happiness. We want to believe. For all the derision leveled at romances, there is one thing that cannot be denied. There seems to be a near universal yearning for the happy ever after ending, particularly after the triumph of near impossible odds.
The critical darling Slumdog Millionaire is really more than just a tale of a slumdog making it good. It’s the story of two people, Jamal and Latika, who met as young children and are separated time and again before destiny writes the last chapter. When the epic movie Australia was prescreened for critics, the movie was derided for its unhappy ending which originally saw the Hugh Jackman character die after three hours of torment and agnst.
In real life and in our escape from real life, we look for happiness. It’s part of the Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness. There is an even scientific basis for our pursuit of happiness. Endorphin are opiate like chemicals that our body can produce through various means such as exercise, sex, laughter, chocolate, chili peppers, massage, even meditation. These neurotransmitters tell our brain that we feel good. Happiness makes us feel good.
I don’t have a doubt that romance novels serve to engage our “feel good” neurotransmitters. The best ones take us through a range of emotions because without pain, there is no appreciation for the corresponding emotion of joy. The need for good endings is universal. It is not the exclusive province of the romance reader. It is not a crutch of the emotionally weak. We, as a people, seek happiness. It’s instinctual. It’s base.
Every time we crack open a romance book, we know therein lies a story of hope, inspiration, and happiness. The answer then to the question of why we read romance is, “why don’t you?” Romance, it’s our fundamental right.