Could there be anything more twisted than these Holocaust fantasists?

How more and more people are making up memoirs about witnessing Nazi crimes

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Joe Corry claims in a book that he was at a death camp that never existed Joe Corry claims in a book that he was at a death camp  that never existed

Just four days before the end of the war in  Europe, a unit of Canadian soldiers was advancing through a thick forest in the  north-east of Holland. Accompanying them was a member of the highly secret  British Special Service Unit, a man called Joe Corry.

By any measure, Corry had had an eventful  war. He had assassinated a Nazi scientist with a crossbow, watched D-Day from a  house on the landing beaches, rescued the nuclear scientist J Robert Oppenheimer  (the so-called father of the atom bomb) from Holland, attached limpet mines to  U-boats, been shipwrecked off Newfoundland, and had even worked with the future  James Bond author, Ian Fleming, himself an intelligence officer.

But despite everything he had seen, nothing  could prepare Corry for what he would witness that day. For hidden deep in the  forest was a Nazi ‘experimental’ extermination camp, the sight of which would  remain with him for ever.

‘The living and dead evidence of horror and  brutality beyond one’s imagination was there,’ wrote Corry years later. ‘People  were lying, crawling and shuffling about, in stinking ankle-deep mud and human  excrement.’

A young girl came up to him, crying for help,  but there was little that Corry could do. A rabbi then approached and kissed the  back of Corry’s hand, mumbling what Corry could only assume was a prayer.

As Corry walked around the camp, he was  presented with increasingly horrific sights, including heaps of corpses and rows  of ‘living skeletons’ crammed into blockhouses.

A few days later he returned, and saw two  inmates tearing flesh from a long-dead horse and ‘gulping huge  bites’.

What Corry saw that day nearly seven decades  ago was an all-too-vivid example of the Holocaust, in which six million Jews  were murdered on the orders of Adolf Hitler.

No wonder that earlier this year publishers  Simon & Schuster jumped at the opportunity to re-issue his extraordinary  memoir, first published to little fanfare in 1990.

Herman Rosenblat told Oprah Winfrey that he met his wife when she threw him fruit over a camp fenceHerman Rosenblat told Oprah Winfrey that he met his wife  when she threw him fruit over a camp fence

The new edition, out in 2014, has been  described by Corry’s editor as ‘everything you’d want to read in a World War II  memoir — it’s a gripping, rollercoaster account of extreme bravery and  resourcefulness, that also packs a powerful and emotional punch’.

There is, however, just one problem: it  simply isn’t true.

There were no such ‘experimental  extermination camps’ in Holland, and the concentration camps that had been on  Dutch soil had been discovered well before May 4 — the day of the German  surrender in Holland.

In fact, nearly everything Corry claims about  his wartime experiences is fictitious. There was no ‘Special Service Unit’;  Professor Oppenheimer was in the U.S. throughout the war; there were no British  troops hiding in houses on the D-Day beaches.

The list of falsehoods is astonishing and  blatant. Little wonder that Mike Jones, editorial director of Simon &  Schuster, now says: ‘We publish a vast range of non-fiction, and we have  acquired the book on the basis of what we are being told.

‘There is no way on earth we would want to  publish a book that is inaccurate and is made up. Now this has been brought to  our attention by an expert, we shall look into these allegations and we shall  talk to the author and agent.’

Binjamin Wilkomirski invented a wartime childhood in Auschwitz Binjamin Wilkomirski invented a wartime childhood in  Auschwitz

Sadly, Corry’s tale is part of a growing  problem within the publishing industry, which is selling to the public a growing  number of ‘memoirs’ about the Holocaust and World War II that should really  belong on the shelves marked ‘fiction’.

This issue has been highlighted again by the  recent publication of Felix Weinberg’s moving — and genuine — Holocaust memoir,  Boy 30529: A Memoir.

Sadly, Professor Weinberg, who taught for  many years at Imperial College in London, died before his book came out in  April, but he has left not only a powerful piece of documentary record but also  a well-aimed blast at unscrupulous ‘survivors’ and their editors. I have always  tended to avoid Holocaust literature,’ he wrote, ‘and find some of the recent  fictional accounts masquerading as true stories profoundly  disturbing.

‘It is tantamount to desecrating war graves.  We ought at least to show [the dead] enough respect to refrain from making up  false stories about how their lives ended.’

One of the earliest examples of a false story  about the Holocaust was a book called Fragments: Memories Of A Wartime  Childhood, published by a musician called Binjamin Wilkomirski in Germany in  1995.

Like so many of his fellow fabricators,  Wilkomirski kept his account of life in camps such as Auschwitz and Majdanek  vague, and presented his experiences — as the book’s title suggests — in a very  fragmentary way.

Shocking and powerful, as Holocaust memoirs  tend to be, the book was critically acclaimed by academics and the public alike,  and sold in at least 11 countries.

However, in 1998, Wilkomirski was exposed as  a liar by a Swiss journalist, who revealed the author had been nowhere near the  camps; that he was in fact called Bruno Grosjean, and had been raised in an  orphanage.

After the exposure of Fragments, one might  have hoped publishers would have taken more care in vetting manuscripts, but  this has not proved to be the case.

After all, the Nineties were the decade in  which ‘misery memoirs’ became fashionable, and a Holocaust tale is the ultimate  misery memoir.

In 1996, Herman Rosenblat appeared on the  Oprah Winfrey show with an incredible story to tell. As  a boy, Rosenblat had been incarcerated in a concentration camp called Schlieben,  which was a sub-camp of the infamous Buchenwald.

Every day for seven months, Rosenblat was  thrown apples and bread over the camp’s fence by a young Jewish girl called Roma  — food that kept him alive.

Misha Defonesca said she'd survived the Warsaw ghetto and then been raised by wolvesMisha Defonesca said she’d survived the Warsaw ghetto  and then been raised by wolves

Then, Rosenblat was moved to another camp,  and he thought he would never see Roma again. By  the Fifties, Rosenblat was living in Brooklyn in the United States, and one day  in 1957, he went on a blind date with an attractive young woman. Amazingly, the  date was none other than Roma, and — in true Hollywood fashion — they got  married.

Curiously, it took a long time for  Rosenblat’s story to attract the attention of publishers, but finally, in 2008,  it was sold for an undisclosed sum to Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin, and  scheduled to be published as Angel At The Fence the following  year.

In addition, a £17 million feature film was  scheduled to start shooting in March. Rosenblat was about to become immensely  rich.

But then the book came to the attention of  Holocaust scholars and those who had survived Schlieben.

They didn’t believe it was possible for Roma  and Rosenblat to have met at the camp’s fence.

The public road near the fence was closed,  and prisoners could only approach it at the risk of death. There was simply no  way the story of the ‘angel’ could have happened.

In December 2008, the book was withdrawn from  publication.

‘I wanted to bring happiness to people,’  Rosenblat said, unconvincingly. ‘I brought hope to a lot of people. My  motivation was to make good in this world.’

Walters believes that the fake memoirs encourages  extremists who deny the holocaust ever happened

Unfortunately, falsifying Holocaust memoirs  to make money does anything but good.

As early as December 2007, renowned American  historian Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust  Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, stated that Rosenblat’s story ‘has so  many shortcomings that one hardly knows where to begin’.

t that such memoirs, by distorting the  historical record, have a very damaging side-effect. ‘Not only do we need to be  historically accurate for the simple sake of history,’ she stated, ‘but on top  of that, this kind of stuff is fodder for Holocaust-deniers.’

This a key point. Holocaust deniers love  false memoirs, as they can be used to ‘prove’ that in fact most Holocaust  memoirs are untrue.

When Misha Defonseca published in 1997 her  entirely false Misha: A Memoir Of The Holocaust Years, in which she claimed to  have survived the Warsaw ghetto and been raised by wolves, the deniers had a  field day.

 ‘It’s  tantamount to desecrating war graves’

It hardly helped when Defonseca uttered the  ludicrous justification for her actions that ‘it’s not the true reality, but it  is my reality’.

Unfortunately, despite all these examples,  publishers are still wilfully selling suspect memoirs based on the Holocaust and  the war.

In 2011, I showed how Denis Avey’s claims to  have broken into Auschwitz in his book The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, were  riddled with so many discrepancies that serious questions were raised about his  story.

What made it particularly suspect was an  interview he had given in which he had recalled trying to meet an Australian who  stoked the crematorium where the bodies of the dead Jews were disposed of.  That recollection seems false, as the  Australian was called Donald Watt, who had published a memoir in 1995 about his  Holocaust experiences which was shown to be complete rubbish.

For historians, books by the likes of Avey  and Watt are seen as ‘junk history’ — pages that sate the appetite, but do not  provide any historical nutrition.

Every time I pick up a memoir written by a  Tommy in his twilight years, I find passages that make me raise an  eyebrow.

Take the example of the recent Survivor Of  The Long March: Five Years as a PoW 1940-1945 by Charles Waite. At one point,  Waite recalls how he witnessed a Jewish baby being snatched from its mother by a  guard. ‘The baby started crying,’ Waite writes, ‘and he threw it onto the ground  and started kicking it like a football along the track.’ The screaming mother  was then shot in the back of the head, and the baby left dead on the  ground.

Can this story be true? It is possible, but  we only have Waite’s word for it, and he died last year.

There are many stories about guards murdering  babies (usually, as is the case in Avey’s book, their heads are smashed in), and  undoubtedly some are true.

Unfortunately, we are now entering a  situation where nearly every Holocaust memoir features such a scene. It is  almost a compulsory fixture — although in truth such events were incredibly  rare, for the simple reason that killing babies in front of their parents is not  the best way to pacify a train full of prisoners.

The famous 'Arbeit macht frei' sign at the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland. One person said he had spent his childhood thereThe famous ‘Arbeit macht frei’ sign at the former Nazi  death camp Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland. One person said he had spent his  childhood there

Besides, most guards had no wish to kill  children — one of the reasons gas chambers were created was to spare the killers  witnessing the gruesomeness of murder.

However, the increasing frequency in which  such horrific stories of infanticide are starting to appear, so many decades  after the war, suggests some of the accounts are likely to be fabrications, or  false memories generated by those who have been overly immersed in Holocaust  literature.

Another fixture of Holocaust memoirs is that  sinister figure, the SS doctor Josef Mengele. Again, nearly every memoir written  by an Auschwitz survivor will recollect Mengele at a ‘selection’, determining  who will be sent to the gas chambers. More often than not, he is whistling a  Wagnerian aria and wearing a spotless white coat.

In truth, Mengele was just one of many  ‘doctors’ employed at the camp, and he was by no means at every  selection.

Just last month, yet another memoir appeared  that raises many questions. The book, Do The Birds Still Sing In Hell?, tells  the story of a British soldier called Horace Greasley, who ‘escaped over 200  times from a notorious German prison to see the girl he loved’.

As with so many of these accounts, the book  is rumoured to be made into a film.

Mysteriously, Greasley’s PoW record held at  the National Archives does not make one mention of these 200  ‘escapes’.

Working camps for NCOs such as Greasley were  not the tightly-guarded places conjured up by our collective imagination, which  is weaned on images from Colditz and The Great Escape. In fact, bunking out of  one’s camp to fraternise with local girls was hardly unusual, and certainly not  ‘escaping’ in the sense most of us understand it.

No doubt there will be more books of this  type. With publishers fighting it out to sell the latest tale of World War II  derring-do, or Holocaust misery, it seems unlikely this is a genre that will die  out.

Yet there is something profoundly distasteful  about this distorting and milking of the faltering memories of old men for the  last drops of cash.

Anybody reading these books should stop and  ask themselves whether what they hold in their hands is, in fact,  true.

We should all share the repugnance felt by  the late Professor Weinberg, and read his book instead.

Boy 30529: A  Memoir by Felix Weinberg is published by Verso Books at £12.99.

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