Holocaust Literary Frauds

The Holocaust Industry
By Norman Finkelstein
Verso, New York, 2001 (2000)
'Hoaxers, Hucksters, and History' Pages 55-61

Articulating the key Holocaust dogmas, much of the literature on Hitler's Final Solution is worthless as scholarship. Indeed, the field of Holocaust studies is replete with nonsense, if not sheer fraud. Especially revealing is the cultural milieu that nurtures this Holocaust literature.
The first major Holocaust hoax was The Painted Bird, by Polish emigre Jerzy Kosinsky. (*) The book was "written in English", Kosinsky explained, so that "I could write dispassionately, free from the emotional connotation one's native language always contains." In fact, whatever parts he actually wrote - an unresolved question - were written in Polish. The book was purported to be Kosinsky's autobiographical account of his wanderings as a solitary child through rural Poland during World War II. In fact, Kosinsky lived with his parents throughout the war. The book's motif is the sadistic sexual tortures perpetrated by the Polish peasantry. Pre-publication readers derided it as a "pornography of violence" and "the product of a mind obsessed with sadomasochistic violence."
In fact, Kosinsky conjured up almost all the pathological episodes he narrates. The book depicts the Polish peasants he lived with as virulently anti-Semitic. "Beat the Jews," they jeer, "Beat the bastards." In fact, Polish peasants harbored the Kosinsky family even though they were fully aware of their Jewishness and the dire consequences they themselves faced if caught.
In the New York Times Book Review, Elie Wiesel acclaimed The Painted Bird as "one of the best" indictments of the Nazi era, "written with deep sincerity and sensitivity." Cynthia Ozick later gushed that she "immediately" recognized Kosinsky's authenticity as "a Jewish survivor and witness to the Holocaust." Long after Kosinsky was exposed as a consummate literary hoaxer, Wiesel continued to heap encomiums on his "remarkable body of work."
The Painted Bird became a basic Holocaust text. It was a best-seller and award-winner, translated in numerous languages, and required reading in high school and college classes. Doing the Holocaust circuit, Kosinsky dubbed himself a "cut-rate Elie Wiesel." [...] Finally exposed by an investigative newsweekly, Kosinski was still stoutly defended by the New York Times, which alleged that he was the victim of a Communist plot.
A more recent fraud, Binjamin Wilkomirski's Fragments, borrows promiscuously from the Holocaust kitsch of The Painted Bird. Like Kosinski, Wilkomirski portrays himself as a solitary child survivor who becomes mute, winds up in an orphanage and only belatedly discovers that he is Jewish. Like The Painted Bird, the chief narrative conceit of Fragments is the simple, pared-down voice of a child-naif, also allowing time frames and place names to remain vague. Like The Painted Bird, each chapter of Fragments climaxes in an orgy of violence. Kosinsky represented The Painted Bird as "the slow unfreezing of the mind"; Wilkomirski represents Fragments as "recovered memory".
A hoax cut out of whole cloth, Fragments is nevertheless the archetypal Holocaust memoir. It is set first in the concentration camps, where every guard is a crazed, sadistic monster joyfully cracking the skulls of Jewish newborns. Yet, the classic memoirs of the Nazi concentration camps concur with Auschwitz survivor Fr. Ella Lingens-Reiner: "There were few sadists. Not more than five or ten percent." Ubiquitous German sadism figures prominently, however, in Holocaust literature. Doing double service, it "documents" the unique irrationality of the Holocaust as well as the fanatical anti-Semitism of the perpetrators.
Fragments was widely hailed as a classic of Holocaust literature. It was translated into a dozen languages and won the Jewish National Book Award, the Jewish Quarterly Prize, and the Prix de Memoire de la Shoah. Star of documentaries, keynoter at Holocaust conferences and seminars, fund-raiser for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Wilkomirski quickly became a Holocaust poster boy.
Acclaiming Fragments a "small masterpiece," Daniel Goldhagen was Wilkomirski's main academic champion. Knowledgeable historians like Raul Hilberg, however, early on pegged Fragments as a fraud. Hilberg also posed the right questions after the fraud's exposure: "How did this book pass as memoir in several publishing houses? How could it have brought Mr. Wilkomirski invitations to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as well as recognized universities? How come we have no decent quality control when it comes to evaluating Holocaust material for publication?"
Half-fruitcake, half-mountebank, Wilkomirski, it turns out, spent the entire war in Switzerland. He is not even Jewish.
Yesterday, Wilkomirski was feted for his tales of Gentile evil; today he is chastised as yet another evil Gentile. It's always the Gentiles' fault. True, Wilkomirski fabricated his Holocaust past, but the larger truth is that the Holocaust industry, built on a fraudulent misappropriation of history for ideological purposes, was primed to celebrate the Wilkomirski fabrication.
Norman Finkelstein
The Holocaust Industry
Verso, New York, 2001 (2000)
"Hoaxers, Hucksters, and History"
Pages 55-61
(*) Le livre est paru en francais sous le titre
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