reading the wilkomirski affair: A Study In Biographical Truth is like watching a suicide and not being able to do anything about it.It tracks the story of Binjamin Wilkomirski, once hailed as a new and important voice in Holocaust literature.
His book, Fragments, recounts his journey through the Majdanek and Birkenau death camps. Told through the eyes of very young child, it made the Swiss clarinet player a writer of consequence on the subject, comparable to Anne Frank or Primo Levi.
But then the evidence that Wilkomirski was a fraud began mounting. Stefan Maechler, a Swiss historian and expert on anti-Semitism, was hired by Fragments' publishers to investigate. The Wilkomirski Affair is the result of that investigation.
Maechler does a fine job of laying out this pathetic story. Wilkomirski's real name was Bruno Grosjean. He was the son of a poor, unmarried woman who was forced by Swiss authorities to put her child up for adoption.
His well-to-do adoptive family gave Grosjean a chilly embrace. He grew up an interloper who told lies to fit in.
As he grew older, he discovered that lying about the Holocaust brought acceptance. An entire community cried for him -- almost as much as he cried for himself. And nobody cares about inconsistency in the middle of a good cry.
Maechler shows how seemingly intelligent people refrained from using logic in favour of pop psychology. It didn't help that non-believers were automatically cast as Holocaust deniers.
Grosjean himself may have started to believe his own story. How could it not be true when it got such a huge reaction?
By asking such questions, this book works as both a biography and as a piece of investigative reporting.
Included at the end of the book is the text of Fragments.
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The Wilkomirski Affair: A study in Biographical Truth by Stefan Maechler (Schocken Books), 496 pages, $24.95 paper. Rating: NNNNN