The controversy surrounding the fate of the now-debunked Holocaust sex-in-the-barracks novel by Australian romance novelist Heather Morris continues unabated.
On Monday, Decembe 19, Publishers Weekly, a major book trade magazine in New York ran an item in its free daily online newsletter headlined ''The Tattooist of Auschwitz Under Fire" with a subheadline reading "The Auschwitz Memorial Research Centre claims that 'inaccuracies' in Heather Morris’s hit novel "blur the authenticity" of the true history, with a link to the recent UK Guardian exposeof the book by book beat reporter Alison Flood in London.
And Claudia Miriam Reed, a writer in Massachusetts read the recent Times of Israel news report about the book, summing up the Guardian's article, and she left a comment the novel that reads: ''A book like that is not one that 'inspires people to engage with the terrible events of the Holocaust more deeply.' It's one that sends the message that things weren't so bad after all. It also reinforces the master/slave fantasies of the exually confused.''
Then there's Australian book reviewer and blogger Lisa Hill who in June -- five months ago before this Holocaust literary storm broke -- blogged about the publication of the novel in Australia.
"The horror of Auschwitz has been muted in this novel by the implied suggestion that survival was possible for those who were wily and determined enough," Hill opined. "Lali’s ‘will to survive’ is critical to this narrative. Whereas everything I have read about the Holocaust, from Primo Levi to most recently 'Bella and Chaim' tells us that no agency on the part of the Jews made any difference. Survival was merely a matter of luck, and to assert otherwise is to suggest that Jews could have averted their fate.''
Hill added: ''What one reviewer identifies in the novel's storyline is a problem common to any biographer who becomes fond of her subject, a problem exacerbated by the specific circumstances of a Holocaust survivor. It’s difficult to interrogate with sufficient rigour the memories of someone you like, and more so if you pity them too. But even if the intention is not to write a biography with its demands of veracity, but rather a film script of a love story which transcends horror -- perhaps somewhat like the film 'Life is Beautiful' -- events need to be credible even when they form a narrative which needs dramatic effects to succeed as a film.''
Bram Presser, author of the award-winning ''The Book of Dirt,'' said at the Melbourne Jewish Book Week that books about the Holocaust ought to contribute something new, or not be written at all.
"And I think he’s right," Hill said.
And on December 12, Hill added a postscript to her June blog, writing:
"There is now an authoritative source for disputing the veracity of events in this book. The UK Guardian is reporting that a report for the Auschwitz Memorial Research Centre in Poland claims inaccuracies in Heather Morris’s hit novel ‘blur the authenticity’ of the true history. See Alison Flood’s article ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz attacked as inauthentic by camp memorial centre’ online at The Guardian.''
In an earlier blog post, Hill reviewed a novel from 2008 that was at first wildychampioned by Oprah Winfrey on her TV show, inviting the elderly Holocaust survivor 87-year-old Jewish soon-to-be-outed-as-a-literary-hoaxer Herman Rosenblat on her program three times to glowingly tell her audiences in New Age parlance that his Holocaust novel "Apples Over the Fence" (which had still not yet been published yet but was set for publication soon) was ''the greatest love story ever to air on my television program. ''
It was later reported by New Republic journalist Gabriel Sherman in a two-part expose that Mr Rosenblat had made the entire love story about meeting his wife in a concentration camp when she threw apples over a fence to satisfy his hunger as an inmate in Buchenwald.
Sound familiar? Man meets future wife in a Nazi concentration camp, appears on Oprah show three times, gets book contract to tell his story, and is later exposed as a hoaxer who made the whole thing up?
Once exposed in the mainstream media as a liar, Rosenblat was at first hesitant about reappearing on Oprah’s show to explain the reasons for his hoax, but he did appear and admit he fabricated the entire story but he also tried to explain his reasons for making up the tale by talking to Oprah about the persecution of the Jews in Poland, his family’s imprisonment in the Warsaw Ghetto and eventual transfer to a concentration camp where his mother was murdered.
Hill wrote on her blog in reviewing Penelope Holt's 2008 book about Rosenblat: "It’s when Herman reveals how he met his wife Rosa when she (as a child of about nine) threw apples to him over the fence at Schlieben (part of the Buchenwald concentration camp complex) that the scepticism antennae sound the alarm. Well, you don’t have to be a Holocaust scholar to know that this is rubbish. It’s very fashionable these days to claim that there were countless humane and kindly Germans who were not Nazis, but it beggars belief that guards would (a) not have noticed and (b) allowed it to happen, especially not repeatedly.''
Holt's book was a simplistic muddle of pop psychology and fable, and it covers the story of how Rosenblat’s tale came to be written and celebrated in the America media and by tens of thousands of gullible ''fans'' on social media.
The book also claimed to explore the story behind the story – what happened after [Rosenblat’s] fake account became public and created a perfect pop-culture storm, complete with gotcha journalism, adventures in culture making, publishing dilemmas, modern victimhood, freedom of speech and storytelling, new media and the power of the internet to explode a story.
But some questions remain and they might be useful in looking at the story behind "The Tattooist of Auschwitz," too.
For example: Why did Mr Rosenblat invent his story? What circumstances coalesced for his publisher not to vet and verify the story? Why was Oprah so gullible? Why did her viewing public accept the whole improbable story anyway? Why is this fantasy so damaging to the history of the Holocaust?
One might also ask: Why did 87-year-old Lali Sokolov invent his story? What circumstances coalesced for his publisher not to vet and verify the story? Why were book reviewers and Morris' readers so gullible? Why did the general public and fans of the book saccept the likely improbable story anyway? And again, why could this fantasy so damaging to the history of the Holocaust?
Only a wise and humane psychiatrist could possibly hope to disentangle Lali's motives, but one suspects that he never really came to terms with the evil that confronted him as a 24-year-old inmate at Auschwitz, and somehow needed to believe that there was humanity and compassion among some Nazis and SS guards. But knowing all that we do now about the German genocide under the Nazis, civilized people still find their wickedness incomprehensible.
The publisher’s failure to detect the Rosengblat hoax deserves much greater investigation and the Oprah phenomenon does, too. The whole sordid story feeds into the Holocaust denial industry, at a time when younger generations are either ignorant about this shameful event in human history or subjected to revisionist versions of it.
Does this apply to "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" as well?
We are about to find out in the next few weeks and months.