> The Jerusalem Post
> 12 Av 5761 / Wednesday August 1, 2001
> A Holocaust fraud
> By Calev Ben-David
> JERUSALEMï¿½ï¿½A post-modern parable about the pliable
> nature of historical truth and the ways in which the
> memory of the Holocaust is manipulated.
> In 1995, a new Holocaust memoir titled Fragments,
> written by one Binyamin Wilkomirski, was published in
> Switzerland and in several translated editions elsewhere.
> It purported to tell of the author's childhood experiences
> growing up in the Riga ghetto, his deportation to Majdanek
> and Auschwitz, his experience in a Cracow orphanage after
> the war, and his eventual adoption by the Swiss family
> that raised him.
> The book received largely positive, even effusive critical
> praise. A reviewer in Britain's The Guardian called it "one
> of the great works about the Holocaust" and a reviewer in
> the US magazine The Nation actually wrote: "This stunning
> and austerely written work is so profoundly moving, so
> morally important, and so free from literary artifice of
> any kind at all that I wonder if I even have the right to
> try to offer praise."
> Fragments won several literary prizes, including a National
> Jewish Book award, and Wilkomirski himself became a
> celebrity-survivor, giving readings and lectures across
> the world.
> Then in 1998, Swiss-Jewish author, Daniel Ganzfried, who
> had been skeptical about the book since its publication,
> wrote an article which charged that Wilkomirski, far from
> being a Holocaust survivor, was a native-born, non-Jewish
> Swiss citizen originally named Bruno Grosjean, who had
> entirely invented the story of his childhood in war-time
> East Europe and the camps.
> Wilkomirski denied the accusation, and because he had
> indeed been an adopted child, it was not easy at first
> to establish the facts of his early years. But as other
> journalists began to poke into the story, the truth of
> Ganzfried's charges - and the falsehoods and inventions
> in Fragmentsï¿½ï¿½looked more and more evident, and calls
> were made for the book to be pulled from the shelves,
> or at least relabelled as fiction.
> Instead the publishers went out and hired a Swiss
> historian, Dr. Stefan Maechler, to investigate the
> charges against Wilkomirski. The result, together with
> the complete text of Fragments, is now being put out
> by the same companies that published Wilkomirski's
> questionable text in the first place.
> If the whole affair already sounds like some kind of
> post-modern parable about the pliable nature of historical
> truth and the ways in which the memory of the Holocaust
> is being manipulated, it gets even worse. Maechler makes
> it absolutely clear that Wilkomirski-Grosjean (he took the
> former name because of a resemblance to a well-known
> Jewish violinist, Wanda Wilkomirski) made up everything
> in Fragments connected with the Holocaustï¿½ï¿½or borrowed
> it from other sources, especially Jerzy Kosinski's
> novel-memoir The Painted Bird, whose own veracity has
> been questioned.
> Serious doubts had been raised and then ignored about
> the work from the very beginning. Even worse was the
> indiscriminate rush to canonize yet another survivor-saint
> following the book's publication. The height of this
> absurdity, reports Maechler, came when Wilkomirski
> addressed a meeting of the Holocaust Child Survivors
> Group of Los Angeles, and was tearfully embraced there
> by a woman named Laura Grabowski, who claimed to
> remember him from the camps. It later turned out
> that she was actually a non-Jewish, US-born woman
> named Lauren Stratford, who had falsely accepted
> Holocaust reparations and had previously claimed to
> be the childhood victim of ritual abuse by Satanic cults.
> Like other adherents of the so-called "recovered memory"
> movement in the US, Wilkomirski himself is seen by
> Maechler to be not some kind of deliberate con-artist,
> but a psychologically disturbed individual, who gradually
> created, and then accepted as truth, his fake
> Holocaust-survivor identity. To this day, even when
> confronted with absolute proof of his deception,
> Wilkomirski refuses to admit his scam. Even worse,
> some of his and Fragments initial admirers refuse to
> back down from their positionï¿½ï¿½and claim that to now
> attack the author and his work is to question the very
> veracity of the Holocaust.
> Why were so many people initially fooled by Fragments?
> Reading it for the first time, it's not hard to imagine why.
> Wilkomirski does clearly have some literary talent; what's
> more, he very cleverly constructed his impressionistic bookï¿½ï¿½
> deliberately or notï¿½ï¿½in such a manner that it evades easy
> detection. At the very beginning, he writes: "My earliest
> memories are a rubble field of isolated images and events.
> Shards of memory with hard knife-sharp edges, and events,
> which still cut flesh if touched today. Mostly a chaotic
> jumble, with very little chronological fit."
> Although Holocaust experts were able to later pick out
> inaccuracies in the textï¿½ï¿½such as the description of a
> rat-plague in Majdanek that never took placeï¿½ï¿½it is
> unlikely a layman would detect Wilkomirski's forgery.
> What is less understandable, however, is why this slim,
> vague and over-wrought work received such critical acclaim.
> The answer, of course, is because it deals with the Holocaust,
> an event that has been lifted out of the realm of normative
> critical perspective, and elevated into a pseudo-religious
> sphere of sanctified legend.
> No wonder then that some academics are now turning a
> more jaundiced eye towards the way in which the memory
> of the Holocaust is increasingly being usedï¿½ï¿½and misused.
> Maechler himself, at the end of his report, writes: "The
> rise and fall of the figure of Binjamin Wilkomirski reveals
> more than just the mechanisms that are now part of the
> Shoah and its remembrance, and it would be wrong to
> discuss the phenomenon only within that framework.
> "Nonetheless it can be said that the Wilkomirski
> phenomenon, from the origins of his memories to their
> reception and exposure, is a litmus test revealing how
> we allï¿½ï¿½depending on the nature of our involvementï¿½ï¿½
> deal with its aftermath."
> Being cautious to a fault, Maechler doesn't come out
> and say "how we all" did on this
> particular litmus test. But the implication is clear, and
> I don't hesitate to say it: this affair is a clear sign that
> something has gone awry in the way we are remembering
> the Holocaust and dealing with its aftermath. A Wilkomirski
> is in many ways as dangerous, if not more so, than a
> Holocaust-denier like David Irving. We would do well to
> keep our guard up.
. . . And now you know how all the rest of
Hollow Cost "eyewitness" fictions came to be!