NEW YORK (Oct. 18)
The author of a now-discredited Holocaust memoir is unlikely to have his Jewish book award stripped from him.
Last week, the German publisher of “Fragments” withdrew the hard-cover copies of a highly acclaimed Holocaust memoir after a draft of a study commissioned by his agent indicated that the author, Benjamin Wilkomirski, was a Christian child who lived in Switzerland during World War II — and not a Jewish orphan who survived concentration camps, as he claims in the book.
The English translation of “Fragments,” which was praised for its searing, simple eloquence, won the National Jewish Book Award in the autobiography/ memoir category for 1996.
“At this point, to rescind the award from a few years ago would not do anything,” said Moshe Dworkin, the president of the Jewish Book Council, the sponsor of the National Jewish Book Award, which carries a prize ranging between $500 and $700.
“It’s unfortunate that we were called on to judge something” that wasn’t what it purported to be, said Dworkin.
But Dworkin said that the controversy surrounding “Fragments” may be noted in some way on any future list of winners of the National Jewish Book Award.
The controversy over the book began last year when a Swiss writer questioned both Wilkomirski’s Jewishness and whether he was old enough to have witnessed the events in Polish concentration camps that he had described in the book.
In the book, Wilkomirski describes himself as a Latvian Jew orphaned during the war, but the study indicates that he was born in Switzerland in 1941 to an unmarried Swiss Christian woman, and was later adopted by another family.
Wilkomirski, who has 20 days to respond to the reports, reportedly still clings to his identity.
Wilkomirski has toured the United States extensively and has spoken at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
The German publisher, Suhrkamp Verlag, made the announcement last week at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which draws more than 6,000 exhibitors annually.
Schocken, which published the English translation of the memoir, has yet to decide whether it will also withdraw the book.