I’ve asked the Holocaust Centre in Melbourne, Australia to look into the possibility that a recent Australian bestseller, with over 600,000 books sold worldwide, might contain some ”white lies” and ”well-intentioned fibs” concocted by the non-Jewish author in order to set in motion a tear-jerker of a Holocaust romance novel that, according to hundreds of reviews online, has really touched readers’ hearts around the world. So does it matter if the story is not really “based on a true story,” as the cover boldly states? Yes, it does matter.
No one is disputing the fact that literary license was used in order to make the novel sing and to make the story more emotional and colorful. But I don’t think any novel or memoir about the Holocaust should resort to literary license or little white lies or wholesale bald-faced fibs. Do you? I’ve asked the Holocaust Center in Melbourne but in the past 30 days they have refused to answer to my emails. I always thought that part of their mission was to look into these things. Literary reproductions of the Holocaust matter.
The author of the novel, which shall go unnamed here for reasons of privacy, has confessed: “Some 95 percent of the novel is as it happened, researched and confirmed. What has been fictionalised is where I’ve put [the two main characters] into events where really they weren’t. They weren’t together when the American planes flew over the [concentration] camps, for example. [He] was on his own at that point. I put him and [her] together for dramatic licence.”
Is it possible that the author also used poetic license to make up the scene in the prologue where the young Jewish inmate first met the even younger Jewish girl, then 18, when he tattooed her arm with the camp numbers assigned to her? And also the scene where the two later had consensual and lustful sex in the concentration camp which Hitler’s henchmen controlled completely leaving no room for inmates to copulate anywhere on the grounds. Even the couple’s the son, who is still alive in Australia at the age of 60, says the sex scene was invented by the no-Jewish novelist to sex up the novel for romantically-inclined female readers.
Maybe, just maybe someone in Australia should contact the author and the late couple’s son and let them know that literary license is unacceptable for many readers and historians, Jewish and Christian, when writing about the Holocaust. Maybe the New York Times Sydney bureau should look into this Oprah-like novel.
If someone can find a historical discrepancy in this powerful read of a novel, then there is something that can be pursued. If finding out that the two Jewish lovers in the story that is allegedly “based on a true story” weren’t at Auschwitz at the same time or didn’t know each other during their time together in the camps, then there is an issue that could put a cold damper on a possible movie project, just as happened with the cancellation of a famous Oprah-endorsed Holocaust literary hoax memoir in 2008 that was later cancelled by the New York publisher when the truth came out.
This Australian novel has been called “a literary hoax” by some Holocaust education bloggers in much the same way that the earlier infamous 2008 Holocaust memoir was blessed and championed by Oprah Winfrey nine times on her show with the author and his wife making three appearances until they both later confessed Jewish Holocaust survivor made the story up out of psychological needs as an old man of 87.
So while the Australian novel was written and published with good intentions as part of a worldwide Holocaust education movement among Jews and non-Jews, this particular novel was very likely not ”based on a true story” and contained a huge ”whopper” in the prologue where which was part of the savvy author’s PR and marketing plan. It worked. The book has sold a million copies. (See an Australian fan’s view of the brouhaha at the end of this blog post.)
About the sex scenes. The female Australian author, a professional screenwriter who started writing the screenplay in 2004 for what later became this novel in 2018, even confessed to a British reporter at the Guardian newsaper: ”Yes, they really were intimate. That was something that when the man’s son read in the first draft of the screenplay I wrote, he told me it wasn’t true. “You have to take that out.” I looked at the elderly Holocaust survivor and his head dropped down. I said, “Well, is it true?” He nodded his head and said, “Yes.” “And do you want me to take it out?” And he nodded his head and said, “No.” His son then whacked his dad’s head over with the pages of the script!”
Do you see? Even the Holocaust’s survivor’s son said that the sex scene inside the Nazi concentration camp wasn’t true. He knew his parents better than the novelist did. He asked that the ”white lie” be taken out of her 2004 screenplay that later became the 2018 novel. Even the author admits this. It seems that the author was maybe controlling the old man in a sweet gentle way that was also manipulating him for her own marketing purposes.
The novel is already out here and getting close to selling a million copies. A great storytelling triumph. Every reviewer so far has loved it, although there have been a few exceptions and negative reviews. So will anyone look into this? I am beginning to think that nobody really cares about these things.
As I was writing this blog post above, an email came in from a non-Jewish reader of the novel in Australia, an appreciative fanboy in fact. He is a good friend of mine and he told me:
‘Sir, I don’t really agree with you about this and I suspect the Melbourne Holocaust Centre – doesn’t either. For obvious reasons, Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz has been widely reviewed here and also covered in discussion pieces, and the general consensus seems to be that it’s a good book, both in literary terms and in personal terms as well. Yes, Morris takes a bit of literary licence at times, but that’s par for the course in this kind of book and it’s also public knowledge here.