LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A publisher has canceled a Holocaust memoir with an amazing love story publicized by Oprah Winfrey after the writer admitted he made up parts, adding the book to a growing list of fabricated memoirs.
Berkley Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group, said it was canceling “Angel at the Fence, The True Story of a Love that Survived” after writer Herman Rosenblat admitted to his agent Andrea Hurst that he had invented part of the book.
Rosenblat, 79, appeared twice on Oprah’s TV show to tell a story about meeting his wife when she threw apples to him over a fence at a Nazi concentration camp in Germany but it transpired he made up the story for a newspaper contest about a decade ago.
“Berkley will demand that the author and the agent return all money that they have received for this work,” said Berkley Books spokesman Craig Burke in a statement.
Rosenblat’s agent Andrea Hurst said in a statement that the writer had revealed to her that he invented the crux of the love story in which he claimed he met his wife when he was a teenage prisoner in a camp at Schlieben, Germany, and she threw him food.
He wrote that after the war he moved to New York and by chance met Polish immigrant Roma Radzicki who turned out to be the girl who threw him food. They fell in love and got married.
Hurst said Rosenblat’s story about being in the concentration camps and the survival of the writer and his brothers was true but the retired electrical contractor from North Miami Beach, Florida, had made up the love story that had won such attention.
“Like millions of others who read this story or saw Herman and Roma on Oprah, I never for a moment questioned the authenticity of the widely circulated story,” said Hurst.
“I know that everyone who has worked so hard with Herman this past year is as stunned and disappointed as I am that this story of hope has such a sad ending.”
Polish-born Rosenblat could not be contacted for comment.
The memoir, due to be published in February, came under public scrutiny after several scholars in The New Republic challenged the book, saying Rosenblat’s description of the camp was inaccurate and throwing food over the fence impossible.
Harris Salomon, president of Atlantic Overseas Pictures is pushing ahead with plans to make a $25 million movie about Herman Rosenblat with filming to start in Hungary in March.
“There are some thing in life you don’t question, like a Holocaust survivor. I believed it,” said Salomon who had spoken to Rosenblat since the book was canceled.
“He claimed he did it because he thought it would help him tell the story about the Holocaust. It was something that helped young people understand. It was the right message but a bad messenger. But the core of this story is really wonderful.”
Salomon said the movie would portray the full story.
“In essence there will be two stories — the fantasy of what he created in his mind intercut with the real life Herman Rosenblat, a man who made it up,” said Salomon. “I will portray him as someone who did something very wrong.”
Historian Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, Atlanta, wrote on her blog that the book had upset some other Holocaust survivors and could also give fodder to Holocaust deniers.
The book is the latest in a list of memoirs in which the author has been accused of fabrication and could put greater pressure on publishers to fact check books more carefully.
In 2006, U.S. author James Frey admitted he had fabricated key parts of his drug and alcohol memoir “A Million Little Pieces,” the top selling non-fiction book in the United States in 2005.
In February, Misha Defonseca admitted most of her bestselling autobiography, which told of a young Jewish girl saved by wolves while hiding from the Nazis in wartime Europe, was made up.
“Love and Consequences,” a memoir by a Margaret B. Jones about a mixed-raced girl growing up in a gang-ridden neighborhood of Los Angeles, was revealed to be a fabrication and distributed copies of the book recalled this year.
Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Bob Tourtellotte