Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Angel at the Fence - a False Story

Slate magazine has an interesting article about how Hollywood tends to load up on holocaust themed movies near the end of the year when Academy Awards are considered. His article is a bit too flippant for me since I tend to shy away from discussions that are anything but serious when it comes to that subject.

That said, he may be right about his categorizations of the holocaust film genre. But does that really matter? Not to me. What is important is that these films continue to be made and that they are among the most honored films by both movie critics and Hollywood insiders. ‘Schindler’s List’ is considered by most critics to be one of the most important films ever made. And ‘Shoah is considered to be one of the most important documentary films ever made. There are so many films of that quality it would fill up the page just to list them.

I have often blamed Hollywood for just the state of sexual immorality into which this country has descended. And the rest of the world has descended even further thanks in no small part to Hollywood which exports these films to foreign countries that are eager to emulate American culture. They now outdo us in terms of immorality. So yes, I believe it is Hollywood that is most (though not exclusively) responsible for the decline in the sexual mores of the civilized world.

Hollywood’s entertainment industry is rightly condemned by many rabbinic authorities for spreading their immoral sexual message. There will be no argument from me about the nature of the industry. My argument is only in how to deal with it. But that is not the subject of this essay. I now come to praise Hollywood, not condemn it.

When it comes to remembering the holocaust, no one does it better than Hollywood. They refuse to allow the holocaust to die. They continue – year after year – to keep it in the consciousness of the world. If there is anyone who has honored the call of 'Never again' - it is Hollywood by not allowing the world to forget. And for that we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

But even that can be carried to far. Hollywood is currently working on a holocaust story that turns out to be a hoax. Until very recently they stood by the claim of the author of that story, Herman Rosenblat, that it was true. But faced with mounting evidence, Mr. Rosenblat has confessed that he fabricated the whole thing.

Hollywood is still going ahead with the project - but as fiction. Normally I wouldn’t object to a story like this which is very dramatic and quite plausible as long as it was clearly labeled as fiction. But in this case - they ought to pull the plug on it. A story that was first touted as true and has since been debunked, should not see the light of day.

It isn’t just a beautiful fictional story anymore. It is a debunked story that was passed off as the truth. It rewards a liar for lying. The negative publicity associated with the genesis of this movie will generate more harm than the story itself will generate good. To their credit, Berkley Books who were about to publish Mr. Rosenblat's fake memoir, 'Angel at the Fence,' has canceled it.

The fact is that what Herman Rosenblat and his wife Roma did is perpetrate a fraud. And it is a Chilul HaShem when a Jew does that. It is true that they are not religiously observant. But the Chilul HaShem remains. They are seen in the eyes of the world as the ‘people of the book’. Had they been obervant the Chilul HaShem would have been greatly magnified. Just as it would have been with Bernard Madoff. But in both cases the Chilul HaShem remains.

What this event does is feed holocaust revisionists. They use stories like this to try and discredit our legitimate claims about the holocaust – saying that at best our claims are exaggerated.

There should be no pass given to the Rosenblats. What they did cannot be tolerated. It has to be completely condemned. The holocaust does not need fictional embellishments of made up stories – lies passed off as truth. The truth was bad enough - to say the least!

Herman Rosenblat is a holocaust survivor. That makes criticism of him very difficult for me. I never condemn survivors because I cannot put myself in their shoes. So if a survivor who was observant before the war comes out of that experience non observant, I dare not question it. As Dr. Eliezer Berkovits writes in his book ‘Faith after the Holocaust’ all victims of the holocaust are holy - religious or not. They have literally gone through hell on earth.

I'm told that the Satmar Rebbe had a similar attitude. There is a story about a holocaust survivor who used to smoke on Shabbos. The Satmar Rebbe was of course upset by this. But supposedly he said that this survivor had already paid his debt in hell and will go straight to Gan Eden - heaven - after his passing. But still, he shouldn't smoke on Shabbos because 'Si Past Nisht far a Yid' - it is inappropriate for a Jew (to smoke on Shabbos). I don't know how true that story is but I believe it captures the essence of his attitude about holocaust survivors.

This couple may end up getting a free pass to Gan Eden too. But that does not excuse what they did nor does it lessen the Chilul HaShem. It has contributed mightily to the fodder of holocaust deniers.