Author and publisher defend a disputed Holocaust memoir

Herman Rosenblat and his wife, Roma. His recollection that the couple first met on opposite sides of a concentration camp fence has been questioned. Herman Rosenblat and his wife, Roma. His recollection that the couple first met on opposite sides of a concentration camp fence has been questioned. (j. pat carter/ap/file)
By Hillel Italie
Associated Press / December 27, 2008
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NEW YORK - The author and publisher of a disputed Holocaust memoir defended the book's story of love between two survivors, but also called it a work of memory and not of scholarship.

"This is my personal story as I remember it," Herman Rosenblat, 79, said in a statement issued through Berkley Books, which will release his "Angel at the Fence" in February.

Berkley added its own comments, noting that a leading Holocaust expert, Michael Berenbaum, had found the story credible, but also saying that "any memoir based on the memories of a survivor is verifiable only by him or her alone."

Rosenblat's book is based on his well-publicized story - embraced by Oprah Winfrey among others - of how he met his future wife, Roma Radzicki, on opposite sides of a barbed-wire fence at a Nazi concentration camp. Scholars have questioned whether such an encounter could have happened.

"The events that are its background are part of history; the book, however, reflects my memories of how the events affected my life. I was a young child at the time my family was caught up in the Holocaust, and I saw things through a young child's eyes. But I know and remember what I saw," Rosenblat said in his statement.

"What I offer in this memoir are the images, sounds, smells, and feelings that have stayed in my mind for some seven decades."

As the Rosenblats have recounted on numerous occasions over the past decade, he was a teenager in a concentration camp in Nazi-controlled Germany and she was slightly younger, her family pretending to be Christian and living nearby.

They met at the camp's fence, where for months she would sneak him apples and bread. Rosenblat was eventually transferred to another camp and lost track of his friend until years after the war, when both were living in New York and met on a blind date. Upon talking about their lives, they recognized each other and were soon married, in 1958. The couple live in the Miami area.

Since going public with their story in the 1990s, the Rosenblats have been celebrated by Winfrey, among others, and have been the subject of a children's book, Laurie Friedman's "Angel Girl." A feature film is scheduled to begin production next year.

But scholars, some of whom were quoted in a recent story by The New Republic, have been highly skeptical, saying the layout of the camp - Schlieben, a sub-camp of Buchenwald - made it virtually impossible that Rosenblat could have approached the fence without being spotted. According to maps of Schlieben, the area where he and Roma might have met was located next to SS barracks.

"Some serious historians as well as other historical sleuths have done some pretty serious research on this story," Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, wrote on her blog on Dec. 15.

No one questions that Rosenblat was a prisoner, but Lipstadt worries that Holocaust deniers would be encouraged should his meetings with Rosa be disproved.

"There are also survivors who are very upset about this story," she wrote. "They just don't believe it."

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