Ann Charney   Letter   The New Yorker   19-Jul-1999   Devoted fetishists of suffering
"The steadily expanding business of merchandising dead Jews requires a constant flow of new ideas, new imagery hence the frisson of appreciation for the bloody rat emerging from the dead woman's womb." Ann Charney

Three comments on Ann Charney's letter

A fourth category of Holocaust literature

In her letter to the editor of The New Yorker, Ann Charney introduces to us a new category of Holocaust literature.  Three already-familiar categories are the two small ones of fact presented as fact and fiction presented as fiction, and the enormous one of fiction presented as fact.  Ann Charney leads us to believe that the fourth logical combination exists as well, to which she and Aharaon Appelfeld are leading contributors and that is the surprising category of fact presented as fiction.

One wonders, however, whether the latter variety of mis-categorization is in anybody's interests.  Wouldn't everybody be better served if factual accounts were presented as factual, and if that factual writing specified which portions had been recollected from memory with certainty, and which with an element of doubt?  One wonders whether the truth behind Ann Charney's having initially classified her work as fiction is that she knew it to be fictional, at that time doubted that it could ever be accepted as fact, but now seeing in the case of Binjamin Wilkomirski how grossly fraudulent an account has to be before it is discredited regrets her earlier decision and prefers now to have her work re-classified as nonfiction.  Perhaps too she would like to take credit for a reluctance to trust memory which is so strong as to bestow upon her writing the highest credibility.

Is Holocaust fabulism a recent creation?

In wondering whether Holocaust fabulist Binjamin Wilkomirski "may have created a new genre," Ann Charney demonstrates a lack of awareness that Holocaust fabulism is as old as Soviet anti-German war propaganda, and that it has been carried on without interruption for over half a century.  The leading apostles of the Jewish Holocaust (Yitzhak Arad, Jerzy Kosinski, Morley Safer, Neal Sher, Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal) have been practicing fabulism from before many of Ann Charney's readers were born, and anybody who is unaware of this understands the Holocaust only superficially.

Aren't Holocaust fabulism's more pernicious effects worth mentioning?

Reading Ann Charney's letter, one might be left with the impression that the worst effect of Holocaust fabulism is that people are misled into believing falsehoods.  However, there are much worse effects, and these deserve to be mentioned in any discussion of Holocaust fabulism, among these worse effects being the prosecution of innocent people for war crimes, as instanced most particularly in the case of John Demjanjuk, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, and the plundering of nations.



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."

Wilkomirski's success in impersonating a Holocaust survivor confirms my suspicions about the increasingly rapacious nature of the Holocaust industry a highly profitable enterprise, be it in tourism or in any of the arts.  The steadily expanding business of merchandising dead Jews requires a constant flow of new ideas, new imagery hence the frisson of appreciation for the bloody rat emerging from the dead woman's womb.  Wilkomirski may have created a new genre, which could attract other practitioners: impersonators more real than the real thing, who thrive as devoted fetishists of suffering.

Montreal, Canada

The New Yorker, 19-Jul-1999, p. 8