Herman A. Rosenblat, born in Poland in 1929, is a Jewish Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the United States in 1950 and later wrote the Holocaust survival memoir Angel at the Fence. The book was planned to be published in 2009 by Berkely books, but was cancelled after it turned out that many elements of the story were fabricated and some were contrary to verifiable historical facts. Rosenblat admitted lying about the key details of his memoir.
Before the fabrication became public, the film rights to the book were purchased for $25 million by Harris Salomon of Atlantic Overseas Pictures. Other fans of the story include Oprah Winfrey who has described it as the single greatest love story she heard over 22 years of doing her show.
The story behind the story is being developed as an independent feature film. In June 2010 Atlantic Overseas Pictures and producer Harris Salomon signed a co production agreement with Castel Film Studios, the largest film studio in Central and Eastern Europe and the studio for Cold Mountain and Borat to produce a feature film on the Herman Rosenblat affair based on an original screenplay by Ivo Marloh to be shot in 2011.
Rosenblat was living at the Piotrków ghetto in Poland when the German Nazis rounded up his family. His father had previously died of typhus, and his mother was separated from him and sent to gas chambers of the Treblinka extermination camp. He lied about his age because Nazis believed that older boys could be used for labor, and sent younger boys to extermination. He was imprisoned with his three older brothers at Schlieben, a sub-camp of the Buchenwald concentration camp during the period of about July 1944 to about February 1945. About 90% of the inhabitants of the ghetto were sent to death camps. He claimed that his future wife Roma, a nine-year old Jewish girl hiding in the town of Schlieben with her family, threw him apples or bread over the electrified, guarded fence of the camp, on a daily basis throughout the seven months' period.
Shortly before his liberation he was brought to the Theresienstadt camp. After being liberated from the concentration camps, Rosenblat and his brothers were brought to the UK in a group of 730 orphans to start a new life. Rosenblat says he lived in London for four years, where he learned the electrical trade at the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training school. He then moved to the United States in 1950 and was drafted into the United States Army in 1951. After serving for two years, he says he moved to New York and opened his own TV repair shop in Brooklyn. He met Roma Radzicki in the United States on a blind date in 1957, and married her. He later claimed that during the date he had recognized her as the girl who threw apples to him over the fence and proposed on the spot.
Holocaust survival hoax
Invention and rise to fame
In 1992 Rosenblat and his wife had run into serious financial problems after the Rosenblat family were victims of an armed robbery that left his son, Kenneth Rosenblat, in a wheelchair and left Rosenblat critically injured. Rosenblat invented the story in the hospital while recovering. Rosenblat stated that his mother had appeared to him at the hospital and had told him to tell his story to the world. In 1994 Rosenblat had a tax lien placed on him by the IRS for unpaid payroll taxes dating back to 1988, which must have increased the financial pressure on him. According to Waltzer, Rosenblat changed his own true story, replacing it with the love story, and then it must have become difficult to turn back. After he had won Oprah's contest of love stories he had to keep lying and live with it. Culture-makers didn't doubt any point of his very implausible story and offered him juicy monetary offers in exchange for telling his story in a books and a film, which only compounded the problem.
Rosenblat told the apple story for the first time in late 1995, and he won Oprah's contest in 1996. Oprah Winfrey interviewed Rosenblat in two different programs, in 1996 and 2007, and she called his story "the single greatest love story, in 22 years of doing this show, we’ve ever told on the air".
Berkley Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group, signed Rosenblat up to publish his memoir Angel at the Fence, with Andrea Hurst working as Rosenblat's literary agent. Producer Harris Salomon, of Atlantic Overseas Pictures, made plans to adapt the story into a $25 million movie called The Flower at the Fence, and he had earlier registered a screenplay based on the story with the Library of Congress in 2003.
Discovery of hoax
Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt had already denounced the story in her personal blog in December 2007. Other Holocaust survivors like Peter Kubicek also denounced the implausibility of the story. Jewish-American blogger Danny Bloom started emailing several historians for help, one of them being Holocaust historian Kenneth Waltzer.
Waltzer had been interviewing survivors for a new book, and he had been told that the story was probably false. In November 2008 Waltzer contacted forensic genealogists Sharon Sergeant and Colleen Fitzpatrick and started investigating the matter. He found out that the prisoners of that concentration camp were prohibited from approaching a camp's fence on pain of death, nor was anyone allowed to approach a fence from the outside. Such perimeter fences were electrified and watched 24/7 by armed guards stationed on guard towers, ready to shoot anyone who approached the fence from either side. The SS barracks were near to the only fence that faced outwards, and prisoners approaching the barracks would have been executed. Waltzer also discovered that Herman's future wife Roma was never in the town of Schlieben, but that she lived throughout that period in a German farm 210 miles away, near Breslau.:2 Another survivor of the same camp, Ben Helfgott, told him that Rosenblat had never told the story before the mid-1990s. Waltzer started questioning the publisher and the agent about the authenticity of the story, with little success. Some people actively resisted and tried to shut down his investigation.
On December 25 and 26, 2008 several scholars and family members published several critical articles in The New Republic, the first article using Waltzer's research, and the second adding their own research on top of Waltzer's, and on December 27 Rosenblat finally confessed the truth to the producer of his movie, Harris Solomon, and his literary agent, Andrea Hurst.:1 He stated that the apple-tossing part of his backstory was something he only imagined, while stating that the rest of his Holocaust experiences were accurate. Rosenblat has apologized and claimed that "It was my imagination, and in my mind, I believed it. Even now, I believe it.", and he also said that he did it to bring happiness and hope to people.
His family knew about the hoax and tried to convince Rosenblat not to tell it. This caused a division in Rosenblat's family. His last surviving brother, Sam, had hesitated talking to him and he died in 2007. Herman's two children were very uncomfortable with the matter. Despite not agreeing with Rosenblat, the family never revealed the truth to the media or Rosenblat's publishers or producers. The other orphans from Buchenwald knew that the story was very implausible but decided not to say anything. As time passed, the persons knowing about the hoax grew more uncomfortable about keeping silent about it and there was a growing consensus that the truth had to be told.
Reaction to discovery
On December 27, 2008, the same day of Rosenblat's confession, Berkley Group cancelled the book publication, saying that it had received "new information" from Rosenblat's agent. A spokesman said that they would be asking for the money back that they had advanced, and the company has declined making any more comments on the matter. A children's edition of the book, written by a third party, Laurie Friedman of Miami, titled Angel Girl, had been released in September 2008. When Lerner Books learned that the book was based on Rosenblat's falsehoods they said that they wouldn't make any reprint and that they would refund any returned copy. About 2,000 copies were sold.
Producer Harris Salomon wasn't aware of Rosenblat's hoax when he started working on his movie of the Rosenblat story, but still intends to produce it, as he had always planned a "loose and fictionalised adaptation":2 and "the story retains its power to grip audiences worldwide." He had been working with Rosenblat over a six-year period as the original feature film was being developed. According to Salomon, the script for the feature was completed in October 2009 with casting to commence by Celestia Fox in London. Producers Abi Sirokh, Gabor Koltai, Lew Rywin and Thierry Potok contributed to the project. The new motion picture tells the story of Herman Rosenblat, with a style similar to the movie The Insider. After the revelation of the hoax, the focus of the film was changed to a psychological love story examining why a Holocaust survivor would make up a story about the Holocaust and the love for his wife while driven by greed, fame and the memory of the Holocaust. Salomon has asked Rosenblat to donate all the earnings of the film to Holocaust survivor charities:2 but Rosenblat refused.
Oprah posted a disclaimer on her website, and in February 2009 she said that she was "disappointed", but she denied having been duped by Rosenblat and that she was "minding my own business." Gayle King, a friend of Oprah, pointed out that a lot of other people had also been duped and that she was being used as the whipping boy.
In July 2009 a new video was disseminated by the gawker.com web site. Rosenblat is re-enacting his Holocaust love story, specifically the throwing of apples over the perimeter fence of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, long after that part of his story had been discredited as fake.
On September 1, 2009, York House Press published a paperback book titled The Apple, written by Penelope Holt. It tells Rosenblat's life story. Peter Kubicek, an outspoken critic of the original book, reportedly advised the author and is thanked in the preface of the book.
Analysis and repercussions
Holocaust historian Kenneth Waltzer said that it was disturbing that so few people had noticed and inquired about the obvious holes in his history over a decade of time. Waltzer and others have said that Rosenblat didn't need to embellish his story, which was already powerful enough by itself. Waltzer places part of the blame in all those "culture makers" that profited from the diffusion of the story and never doubted even the most implausible parts of it. It appears that the veracity of story was not questioned either by the book publisher or by Oprah Winfrey, and that no fact-checking was done to ensure the authenticity of the memoir prior to endorsing it soundly.
Deborah Lipstadt and others have harshly criticized Rosenblat for embellishing his story, since this could cause people to doubt the truth of the Holocaust, and encourage Holocaust revisionists.:2
According to Fitzpatrick, one of Waltzer's collaborators, such hoaxes could be avoided if the publishers spent a few thousand dollars in early fact-checking with historians and genealogists, before deciding to spend huge sums of money for the story.
Among a number of other false elements in Roseblat's story, he claimed that he was scheduled to be gassed at 10am on May 10, 1945, and that the liberation saved him by just two hours. Although the Theresienstadt camp installed a gas chamber in 1945, it was never operational, although it is possible that Rosenblat was told he was going to be put into the new chamber, as death threats were made every day by the SS; in any case, the war ended officially on May 8, and the Nazis had handed over the entire camp to the International Red Cross a week earlier.
- Rosenblat, Herman (2009) Angel at the Fence Berkley Hardcover, ISBN 978-0-425-22581-3
- Ken Waltzer (03-02-2009). "Holocaust Story Faker is No Angel".
- Kayla Habermehl (2009-01-15). "MSU professor debunks couple's Holocaust hoax". The State News.
- Elizabeth Day (2009-02-15). "When one extraordinary life story is not enough". The Observer.
- James Bones (December 29, 2008). "Herman Rosenblat's Holocaust memoir of love is exposed as a hoax". The Times.
- Cohen, Zen (December 14, 2008). Couple's story of love started in time of war Miami Herald
- Dan Harris, Brian O'Keefe and Lee Ferran (2009-02-18). "Exclusive: Holocaust Faker Speaks Out".
- Gabriel Sherman (2008-12-28). "Rosenblat's Lies "always Hurtful" Says Son". The New Republic.
- Motoko Rich, Joseph Berger (2008-12-18). "False Memoir of Holocaust Is Canceled". New York Times. "When Dr. Waltzer asked other survivors who were with Mr. Rosenblat about the tossed apples story, they said the story couldn't possibly be true."
- Motoko Rich, Brian Stelter (2008-12-30). "As Another Memoir Is Faked, Trust Suffers". New York Times.
- Deborah Lipstadt (2007-02-21). "Apples over the Fence: A Holocaust story that beggars the imagination". http://lipstadt.blogspot.com/.
- Caleb Daniloff, Untrue Stories, a genealogist reveals the painful truth about three Holocaust memoirs: they're fiction. Bostonia (Alumni Magazine of Boston University)
- "Holocaust 'greatest' love story a hoax". CNN. 2008-12-30.
- Italie, Hillel (December 28, 2008). Anger, sadness over fabricated Holocaust story. Associated Press
- Barrios, Jennifer (December 28, 2008). Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat recants story. Newsday
- The Harris Salomon Television Entertainment Company (2009-01-10). "Press Release".
- Jim Suhr (2009-01-16). "Winfrey `disappointed’ by debunked Holocaust story". Chicago Tribune.
- Lying Holocaust Author Recounts Tale of Thing That Never Happened, gawker.com
- official site of The Apple novel
- interview, to professor Michael Berenbaum in CBS
- Video Statements by Herman Rosenblat