The Holocaust’s Legacies

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 Mail,” The New Yorker, July 19, 1999, p. 8