Posted Friday, October 22, 1999

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Friday, October 22, 1999

Auschwitz memoir a fantasy, publisher admits


AN AWARD-WINNING book that purported to be the memories of a Latvian-Jewish man who had survived the Nazi death camps as a small child is being removed from German bookshops after its publishers declared it a hoax. It is feared the confirmation that Binjamin Wilkomirski invented the story in Fragments will be invoked by the far Right as evidence that the Holocaust never happened.

Fragments was published in 1995 to vast acclaim from critics and the public in America and Europe. It was seen as a remarkable work and deeply moving testimony.

Wilkomirski claimed to have been adopted by Swiss parents after the war and to have had no memory of the Auschwitz and Majdanek camps and the ghetto at Riga until this was "recovered" years later by therapists.

Survivors of the Holocaust, and those who seek to document it, praised the work highly. It won many literary prizes, and the author gave lectures all over America.

But a year ago a Swiss writer, Daniel Ganzfried, whose own father was an inmate of Auschwitz, started investigating the author -- who turns out to have been born in Switzerland, to be non-Jewish, and to be called Bruno Dösseker. "I found some of what he wrote about and the whole repressed memory thing unbelievable," Mr Ganzfried said. "I found a birth certificate for him dated February 12, 1941. He never suffered in these terrible places set up by the Nazis."

The book's German publishers, Suhrkamp Verlag, withdrew hardback editions last week and ceased offering it on its specialist Jewish imprint list. The author's agent had decided to do her own sleuthing to clear his name; but the historian she hired, Stefan Mächler, condemned him in a 100-page report. The publishers will make a final decision about the paperback shortly but say they have confidence in the investigation.

It is thought that Wilkomirski might have a psychological syndrome in which he finds meaning by having survived hell on earth. Whatever the explanation, he maintains that the memoir is true.

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