Danny Bloom
I seek the truth wherever it lies.

First a novel, now a ‘high end’ TV show: Will ‘Tattooist of Auschwitz’ prevail?

For everyone following the now-unfolding media controversy over Australian novelist Heather Morris’ romantic and sexualized chick-lit book titled ”The Tattooist of Auschwitz,” it turns out that plans are still underway to turn the book into what one Hollywood pundit calls a “high-end” TV drama series. Whatever ”high-end” means.

A British producer connected with Synchronicity Films has secured the movie rights to the novel, paying an undisclosed sum for an option on the book, according to one of the producers Claire Mundell. The agency won the rights for the book  last January before the novel had even been officially released.

The series is already in development and Synchronicity hopes that it will be ready to be released worldwide in January 2020, hopefully to nicely tie in with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. A Jewish screenwriter from Australia, Jacquelin Perske, has been hired to write the script and things are still proceeding swimmingly, according to the British producers.

“We are thrilled to have secured the rights to this incredibly brilliant, confronting and uplifting book,” Mundell said in a corporate press statement released to the media earlier this year.

“I fell in love with the book within the first few pages and was desperate to bring it to the screen, to reach the widest audience possible for this unforgettable story. There was a huge amount of interest in this book and I am grateful that Heather Morris, Bonnier Books UK and the other theatrical agencies involved responded so well to our vision for the story.”

Kate Parkin, who is managing director of adult trade books at Bonnier Books UK, described the novel as “a deeply personal story, with universal themes of courage, love and survival” in the same press release.

“Synchronicity Films was committed to this book from our very first conversation, and they had a clear strategy and fully embraced the responsibilities of bringing this story to the small screen for television audiences,” Parkin added.

But will the TV project really still go on as planned, in light of all the the media controversies in Australia and New York that have erupted since investigative reporters started asking some hard questions about how the novel was created?

The administrators of the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum in Poland are not so sure now if the TV project will survive the controversy over the book. They have warned that the many historical errors in ”The Tattooist of Auschwitz” are distorting wider understanding about Nazi Germany’s biggest concentration camp, saying the best-selling book is “almost without any value as a document.”

Pawel Sawicki, press officer at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum: While there is no issue with fictionalizing the Holocaust in general, “in this case there are too many inaccuracies that in a way distorted the image of Auschwitz as it was. It’s mixture of the true story of a person and all those mistakes that are around it are problematic because I believe most of those ­inaccuracies could have been avoided.”

Did you know that one of Australia’s leading Holocaust historians has revealed that he refused to endorse the book when it was first published in Australia ­because he was alarmed at its historical blunders. The publishers in Melbourne sent a pre-publication reader’s copy of the book to Konrad Kwiet, chief historian to Australia’s War Crimes Commission, in 2017 before it was officially published.

His reaction?

“From the beginning I was very skeptical,” Kwiet, a historian at the Sydney Jewish ­Museum, told an Australian reporter recenly. He admitted, however, that as a historian he was not really able to appraise fiction since he is not a literary expert, but he put his rather blunt take on the controversial novel this way: “It’s a sex story of Auschwitz that has very little historical accuracy.”

Take, for example, Australian novelist Bram Presser, who wrote a well-received novel about his grandfather’s Holocaust experiences, titled ”The Book of Dirt.” When asked about Morris’ novel, he told the Australian media: “I think that the story [Morris tells] is extraordinary, but I have deep reservations about the telling of it. That people should ­believe that this is a true representation of the Holocaust is problematic. If you write a Holocaust book you have an ethical responsibility to do proper research, proper fact-checking. Otherwise you are doing Holocaust memory disservice and potentially flaming Holocaust deniers.”

Pawel Sawicki again: “Telling the story of a Holocaust survivor, if it’s based in the real world, it should try to get the reality of that world right. We have already had international visitors coming to the memorial here in Poland and they ask questions about the ‘Tattooist’ novel and they thought they were reading the true story, historically accurate. For me, this becomes an issue.”

The Auschwitz Memorial itself on its Twitter page has tweeted: “Due to the number of factual errors ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ cannot be recommended as a valuable position for those who wish to understand the history of the camp. The book is an impression about Auschwitz inspired by authentic events, ­almost without any value as a document.”

Wanda Witek-Malicka of the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center in Poland: “The reading of the novel verifies the assurance of its factual and documentary character, but there are numerous ­errors and information inconsistent with the facts.”

“The reality of the the Nazi concentration camp has been fictionalized and poetiszed in the novel,” says another critic of the book in Poland. “The Birkenau concentration camp is also presented as a place where inmatesmove about almost freely. The fact that particular sections of the camp were separated with barbed wire, and moving ­between them is strictly prohibited is not reflected in Morris novel.”

And lastly, take a gander at this scenario: the book also includes a passage about Lali and Gita playfully and lovingly (almost in a kind of Hollywood slow-motion scene) throwing handfuls of green grass at one another, even though it is widely accepted by historians that there was no green grass or gress of any color in what has been described by one pundit as a “landscape of death.”

About the Author
Danny Bloom is editor of The Cli-Fi Report at www.cli-fi.net. Danny graduated from Tufts University in Boston in 1971 with a major in Yiddish Literature. A newspaper editor and reporter since his days in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan, he has lived and worked in 14 countries and speaks French, Japanese and Chinese. He hopes to live until 2032, when his tombstone will read "I came, I saw, I ate cho-dofu."
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