Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 13, 2009

The Apple, by Penelope J Holt

This is an odd book, with a controversial origin that I knew nothing about when I requested it from the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.  I am probably the only person in the western world who didn’t know that Oprah had gushed about Herman Rosenblat’s original Holocaust story as ‘the greatest love story ever to air on her television program’ and I was equally ignorant about the subsequent revelations that Herman Rosenblat had made it up.  I discovered all this when I wandered about in cyberspace to find an image of the cover and stumbled on websites that revealed all…

The book begins with Rosenblat’s hesitation about reappearing on Oprah’s show to explain the reasons for the hoax, then launches into his story of the persecution of the Jews in Poland, his family’s imprisonment in the Warsaw Ghetto and eventual transfer to a concentration camp where his mother was murdered.  It’s when he reveals how he met his wife Rosa when she (as a child of about nine) threw apples to him over the fence at Schlieben (part of the Buchenwald concentration camp complex) that the scepticism antennae sound the alarm.  Well, you don’t have to be a Holocaust scholar to know that this is rubbish.  It’s very fashionable these days to claim that there were countless humane and kindly Germans who were not Nazis, but it beggars belief that guards would (a) not have noticed and (b) allowed it to happen, especially not repeatedly.  I was dubious too when I read Rosenblat’s claim that the Jews knew from outside the camps that the Germans were using gas to exterminate their victims.  In everything I have ever read about the Holocaust Jews went submissively into those infamous shower blocks because they did not know what they were…

In a simplistic muddle of pop psychology and fable, Holt then covers the story of how Rosenblat’s tale came to be written and celebrated in the media.  It’s written in a cloying childlike prose, with no differentiation in style between the story about the hoax and Rosenblat’s story about his experiences.  Holt admits in the introduction that her account is also fictionalised in places, weaving in ‘other authentic individual or composite accounts from survivors who were in the same places.’  She also claims to explore ‘the story behind the story – what happened after [Rosenblat’s] account became public and created a perfect pop-culture storm, complete with gotcha journalism, adventures in culture making, publishing dilemmas, modern victimhood, freedom of speech and storytelling, new media and the power of the Internet to explode a story’.

If in fact Holt had done this, hers would be the book that is needed to explain this tawdry collision between individual wrongdoing and corporate laxity.   The real issues are:

  • Why did Rosenblat invent his story?
  • What circumstances coalesced for his publisher not to verify the story?
  • Why was Oprah so gullible?
  • Why did her viewing public accept the whole improbable story anyway?
  • Why is this fantasy so damaging to the history of the Holocaust?

Only a wise and humane psychiatrist could possibly hope to disentangle Rosenblat’s motives, but I suspect that he has never really come to terms with the evil that confronted him as a child, and somehow needed to believe that there was humanity and compassion in his childhood amongst Nazis.  I can understand this: knowing all that I do about what the German genocide under the Nazis I still find their wickedness incomprehensible.

The publisher’s failure to detect the hoax deserves much greater investigation and the Oprah phenomenon does too.  The whole sordid story feeds into the Holocaust denial industry, at a time when younger generations are either ignorant about this shameful event in human history or subjected to revisionist versions of it.

For all its pretensions, The Apple, it seems to me, is a shabby exploitation of a notorious hoax.  It doesn’t explore the complexities of Rosenblat’s motives, it doesn’t clarify the role of the publisher and its marketing machine, and it certainly doesn’t tackle Oprah’s gullibility.  I think it’s a pity it was written at all.

See also this article at The Guardian.

Author: Penelope J Holt
Title: The Apple
Publisher: York House Press, 2009
ISBN: 9780979195648
Source: Library Thing Early Reviewers copy


Responses

  1. Reading your description, it seems a pity that a better writer didn’t pick up the story. Picture the ideas it could have given to someone like W.G. Sebald or Helen Garner.

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  2. Yes, Deane, exactly my position too. Maybe better writers consider themselves ‘above’ dealing with an Oprah embarrassment LOL?

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  3. BTW I’ve had a couple of comments with links to YouTube etc but I don’t think this book or this issue deserves any more publicity and so comments are now closed for this post.

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