Oprah bagged James Frey for “making up” his life story. Now Oprah has been burned again, this time by a Jewish couple that unnecessarily faked their Holocaust suffering for fun and profit.
In media circles, there is a joke about facts that are too good to check. This week Oprah Winfrey and the New York publishing industry stumbled on yet another unverified account in the form of a Holocaust survivor who said his future wife had helped him stay alive while he was imprisoned as a child in a Nazi concentration camp by throwing apples over the fence to him.
The story of Herman and Roma Rosenblat, who said they reunited years later on a blind date in New York, turned out to be fabricated, and over the weekend the publisher of his memoir, “Angel at the Fence: The True Story of a Love That Survived,” canceled the February release of the book. This isn’t the first time either a publisher or Ms. Winfrey has been gullible in the face of an exaggerated tale. Now both Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin Books, and Ms. Winfrey are faces on a media dartboard, with Ms. Winfrey dodging criticisms of what the media blog Gawker called her “liar’s club.”
Ms. Winfrey has not commented publicly on Mr. Rosenblat’s fabrications And, other than to announce the cancellation of the book, Berkley Books has said nothing further. Nearly three years ago Ms. Winfrey was famously duped by James Frey, the author of “A Million Little Pieces,” his memoir of drug addiction and recovery in which he embellished several details; for example, he wrote that he had spent nearly three months in jail when in fact he had been held for a few hours. An outraged Ms. Winfrey rebuked Mr. Frey on television, telling him that he “betrayed millions of readers.”
I thought Oprah was too hard on James Frey. When one renders a life on the page, you can explore, change, and modify that perceived reality as you wish because you are telling a story and not creating a documentary.
Will Oprah give these two Holocaust survivors the same rabbit punches she gave James Frey? No, she won’t — even though she should — because their fakery is much worse than anything Frey did.
When you knowingly choose to change world history to serve your pocketbook — and that’s precisely what happened — you cheat the Holocaust, you ruin your own being, and you tear down all the goodness that was given to you in good faith: You can mar your own self-worth, but you cannot degrade the misery of the dead in the process without paying for it in the shedding of your own blood.