Sunday, July 12, 2009

True Lies | Eric Blair | 12 July 2009

Consider this passage from Norman Finkelstein's 2000 book, The Holocaust Industry; it appears on page 61.


Here the poli sci professor discusses Israel Gutman’s reaction to the exposure of Binjamin Wilkomirski's book Fragments as a literary fraud, a bogus memoir by a Swiss gentile posing as a Jew

with Baltic roots. Israel Gutman was the director of Yad Vashem and a lecturer in Holocaust studies at Hebrew University; he was also a former inmate of Auschwitz; in short, a Holocaust survivor. But, according to Gutman:


"[I]t's not important" whether Fragments is a fraud. "Wilkomirski has written a story which he has experienced deeply; that's for sure.... He is not a fake. He is someone who lives this story very deeply in his soul. The pain is authentic." So it doesn't matter whether he spent the war in a concentration camp or a Swiss chalet; Wilkomirski's not a fake if his "pain is authentic": thus speaks an Auschwitz survivor turned Holocaust expert."


This, of course, happened several years before Misha Defonseca’s “memoir” Surviving with Wolves,

a fictional account of her life with hospitable wolves in the Ukrainian woods who cared for her as a Jewish runaway hiding from the Nazis, was likewise exposed as a fraud; ditto Herman Rosenblatt’s moving account of a Holocaust romance, Angel at the Fence. Would Gutman have also given them his seal of approval, greenlighted their decision to engage in pure fiction, but palm it off as the real thing? That said, now I’d like to avail myself of the same kind of poetic license Israel Gutman gave Wilkomirski (real name Bruno Grosjean) . . .


Two 11-year-old boys named Peter and Klaus sit out on the back porch on a hot afternoon in Peoria, Illinois. We are into the Dog Days of August. Klaus is leafing through an old family album and showing Peter, the boy next door, photos of relatives from the old country. That country is pre-war, undivided, 1930s Germany.


Understand that Klaus would normally not be spending time with Peter. Klaus is an athlete, he is a sportsman, whereas Peter is a nerd and a geek, a bookworm.


Klaus points to a young man in a double-breasted suit, with dark, slicked-back hair. "That's my Uncle Otto; he died in Auschwitz," he blandly tells Peter.


His companion, while not Jewish, recognizes the name as a World War II military history buff and is startled -- startled by the name Auschwitz, and by the fact his neighbours are Jewish. Peter had

no idea; the Scheuers had given him no clues of their Jewishness. In fact, didn’t they attend services at the local Lutheran church?


Although the temperature is over 100 degrees Peter is suddenly feeling cold. His mind is swarming with the indelible images of the emaciated stacked-up bodies of hundreds of dead concentration inmates beling bulldozed into pits (he had seen Alain Resnais’s documentary Night and Fog on PBS Television and, sensitive soul, been shaken to the core).


Klaus continues blithely poring over the photos in his family album and so fails to notice the look of immense pity on Peter’s face. In fact, Peter does feel immense pity for Uncle Otto, and all the other victims of the Nazis, but also a sense of horrified fascination.


Peter’s mind has a capacity for total recall. An invisible finger has depressed a playback button, and a mental movie starts running in Peter’s mind. It pictures an old unreconstructed Nazi standing on the witness stand; he’s a slightly demented Donald Pleasance-like character. This is after the court has sentenced him to death for his part in wholesale Nazis atrocities. He declaims to the judge:


“Hang me if you must! I regret nothing; I merely did my duty as an officer of the Reich. But when you do, look up and you will see my legs dangling, dancing upon the millions I sent to their graves. Heil Hitler!”


Peter is not one to pry, but he cannot help himself. He can’t stop himself; his morbid curiosity is too hard to resist. He breaths deeply, and takes the plunge. “How did your Uncle Otto die, exactly?” He asks Klaus, then braces for a harrowing tale of a young man in the very prime of life being forced at gunpoint to enter a homicidal Nazi gas chamber, alongside thousands of his fellow Jews.


His young neighbour, retailing the fact as one of only mild interest, replies with a shrug: "They say he broke his neck after falling from a gun tower."


Peter: “ . . . “


Here, as Mark Twain tells readers of Tom Sawyer, let us draw the curtain of charity over the rest of the scene.


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