The Great Pretenders

In April 1998, the cover of The Jewish Journal featured the person who called himself Binjamin Wilkomirski. Naomi Pfefferman (“Memories of a Holocaust Childhood,” April 24, 1998) compared his writing — his one and only book, called “Fragments” — to that of Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel. During an emotionally filled performance at a Beverly Boulevard synagogue, Wilkomirski was accompanied by a lady who called herself Laura Grabowski. Both claimed to be soul mates who, at long last, were reunited survivors of Dr. Mengele’s experiments in Auschwitz.

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Fragments of a fraud

Christopher Hope called it “achingly beautiful”; the New York Times said it was written “with a poet’s vision; a child’s state of grace”; Anne Karpf in this paper described it as “one of the great works about the Holocaust”; all were agreed it was a masterpiece. There is just one problem — Binjamin Wilkomirski’s memoir of surviving as a Jewish child alone in the Nazi concentration camps of Majdanek and Auschwitz was a fabrication, invented from beginning to end, one of the great hoaxes in publishing history.

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The Holocaust’s Legacies

Philip Gourevitch’s article on Binjamin Wilkomirski and his memoir “Fragments” (“The Memory Thief,” June 14th) reveals much about the Holocaust industry. In 1996, Suhrkamp, also Wilkomirski’s publisher, published a German translation of my account of a wartime childhood in Poland. It is entitled “Dobryd” — an anagram of the name of the real town where the action takes place. I chose to write it as fiction, because, like Aharon Appelfeld, I did not trust the factual accuracy of my recollections. At the time of publication, it was suggested to me that the book would sell much better if it was reclassified as nonfiction, but I did not accept the suggestion. Though the book has received excellent critical notices, it has never enjoyed the attention given to “Fragments.”

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Invented ‘Memories’ Praised

A Holocaust Memoir in Doubt

By Doreen Carvajal

Until Binjamin Wilkomirski’s truth came into conflict with his own legal identity, the slim memoir of his Jewish childhood in the concentration camps of Poland was hailed as a “small masterpiece,” a searing sketch of death and horror — rats rummaging among corpses, starving babies sucking fingers to the bone, a dying mother’s last glimpse of her son.

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