Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Apple by Penelope J. Holt

Oprah called Herman Rosenblat's Holocaust story the "Greatest love story ever told."  I remember reading about Herman and Roma Rosenblat on CNN.  I read that Herman was in a concentration camp during World War II, and while imprisoned, he met a young girl outside the fence who would throw apples to him.  These apples helped him survive.  Later, after the war and his immigration to the U.S., Herman went on a blind date and learned that Roma was the young woman with the apples.  They later married.  What a wonderful, heart-warming story, I thought...except it wasn't true.  Well, Herman's story of surviving the Holocaust was true, but the story of the girl with the apple was not.

Penelope Holt's new book, The Apple:  Based on the Herman Rosenblat Holocaust Love Story, is an attempt to tell Herman's story, from the beginning of WWII to the lie about the apple and the publisher canceling his memoir as a result.  The chapters alternate between Herman's Holocaust story and the present, in which he deals with the fallout of the hoax.

Herman was 10 years old when Germany invaded Poland, and his family was forced to live in the Wolborz ghetto.  Herman had to deal with a lot at such a young age; his father succumbed to typhus while in the ghetto, his mother was sent to a concentration camp, and he and his three brothers moved from the Piotrkow ghetto to the Buchenwald, Schlieben, and Theresienstadt concentration camps.  The Nazis forced him to perform back-breaking labor, and the scene in which he was forced to clean excrement from the "death train" turned my stomach.  I was broken-hearted when I read about his separation from his mother.  He was sorted into a group of men, workers who would not be shipped off to die, but not knowing what was happening, Herman ran toward his mother to stay with her.  To ensure Herman wouldn't share her fate, she told him that she didn't love him and didn't want him near her.  Can you imagine having to tell your child that and that it would be the last thing you ever said to him?  It brings tears to my eyes thinking about it again. After Herman's lie about the apple was revealed, he received a lot of hate mail and even people close to him were angry and disappointed.  In Holt's version, Herman claims he wanted the story to be true, that he wanted to provide some hope and give his story some meaning.  But in the author's note, Holt says no one agrees about why Herman embellished his story.

Holt took a chance with The Apple, and her efforts to shed some light on the issue have generated much controversy, from Holocaust deniers to people who believe the hoax casts a shadow on legitimate survivor stories.  I think the book really shines in its telling of Herman's survival of the camps -- the horror, the pain, the awful reality of the Holocaust come through.  I don't think we should allow the lie of the apple to lessen the importance of his story.  As for my thoughts on the story of the apple...well, this is where my assessment of the book becomes complicated.

Rosenblat was wrong to lie, but it's not my place nor anyone else's to judge him.  Personally, I believe he should have told the truth from the start, and he could have reached a lot of people with a story of hope, courage, and survival had he marketed his book as a novel based on a true story.  However, if Rosenblat so much wanted the story of the apple to be true that it became true in his mind, maybe it was a coping mechanism.  He'd seen so many horrors in his life that he needed something positive to help him deal with his past.  It's easy to point fingers and call him a liar, but no one truly knows the psychological scars he carries with him.  It's easy for me to read books about the Holocaust and agree it was horrendous and terrible, but I never had to live through it.  Rosenblat did.  There's nothing that can be said or done to take away the disappointment and the sadness caused by the lie, but we can acknowledge it and move on.

The Apple was an interesting book.  I never was bored while reading it, though I was touched more by the story of Herman during the war than by the chapters dealing with the aftermath of the apple.  However, I wonder why Holt decided to tell Herman's story as a novel instead of a biography and why certain parts (not sure which ones) are fictionalized.  **Holt e-mailed to clarify that though the advance readers copy I received stated that it was a novel, The Apple went to press as creative nonfiction.  The plan was to write a novel, but it was relabeled since it did not deviate much from Herman's authentic Holocaust story.**  I think it is important to note that Holt does not portray Rosenblat as a saint or someone who should be pitied.  I think it was her intent to show the horrors the Nazis inflicted upon the Jews and how it might affect -- but not justify -- someone's actions down the road.  It's about balancing the lie itself and the reasons why it was told in the first place.

For more information about the book, visit TheAppleNovel.com.



The Apple was book 22 for me for the WWII reading challenge at War Through the Generations.

**I recently posted on War Through the Generations about a giveaway of The Apple, and the post generated much discussion from people (none of whom are participants in the WWII reading challenge) opposed to the book and Rosenblat himself.  There was a lot of name calling and derogatory statements, and we were forced to delete offensive comments and eventually close the comments altogether.  I hope that doesn't happen here.  I don't expect everyone to agree, and negative comments are expected in situations such as this.  However, I hope we can have a respectful discussion of the book.  Consider yourself warned that any derogatory or offensive comments will be deleted as soon as I notice them.**

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of The Apple from York House Press for review purposes.

25 comments:

Kristen said...

I'm not sure I realized this was a novelization of the whole debacle. That said, whatever his motivations were in creating the story, he obviously did indeed endure a terrible amount of hardship and tragedy and it's sad that he was driven to create something so that his story would have hope and something positive in it (in his eyes) rather than relying on his perseverance and survival to provide that hope.

Lisa said...

Very interesting review. And I'm intrigued about the book, although I think I'd agree that a bio version might have been better, particularly to overcome the apple debacle.

Blodeuedd said...

Sounds like an interesting read, and I remember seeing them on Oprah. Should not have lied, he still had a great story to tell

Jo-Jo said...

I can see why this would have been an interesting story. And I have heard of instances where people would keep telling the same fictionalized story so much that eventually they honestly believe it as truth. Thanks for the review Anna.

Aarti said...

Wow, I remember reading about this love story on CNN, I think. But I didn't know that it was fake! How sad. What a great, objective review you managed. Thanks!

Serena said...

I remember this story vividly, but I think its fantastic that she went through the trouble to understand his point of view. I wish he had just wrote a fiction book.

bermudaonion said...

I'm sorry that happened with the giveaway - things like that are totally uncalled for. I remember when Herman was telling that story and always felt like it was too much of a coincidence to be true. It sure did make a great story, though!

Literary Feline said...

The Apple sounds like a worthwhile read, Anna. Herman went through so much, as did so many others during the Holocaust. It's heartbreaking. I hadn't really heard much about Herman's memoir until the controversy broke, and there were a couple of others that were suddenly being revealed as fake during that time too. I always wonder what was running through a person's mind when he or she decided to lie like that.

Jenners said...

I've never heard about this book or the story it was based on at all -- and I find it very intriguing. It saddens me that you were forced to close comments on your giveaway because of hateful and negative comments. Have we not learned anything yet????

I can see that this would be controversial ... but I think you make some very very good points. It is one thing to say "What he did was wrong" but we didn't live through what he did. We don't know why he created this story or felt the need to. I don't think anyone wants to "walk a mile in his shoes" ... but I do think you need to do that before being so harsh and critical of someone. I imagine his decision to misrepresent his experiences didn't exactly help him out. It is sad really.

And I do find it interesting that the author would make this a novel and not a biography. That seems to mix things up even more.

All that being said, it sounds like a fascinating story that is very thought-provoking. Fantastic review and I wish you luck with this post!!!!

Sandy Nawrot said...

It just sucks, though, when things like this happen. I was reading "Night" awhile back, and a friend of mine said "wasn't that the one that was a hoax?". What? Are you kidding me? Night, a hoax? It gives everything in the genre a bad name. The story would have been able to stand on its own for crying out loud.

Jeane said...

It is really sad that whenever a story comes out as being false, I can't help wondering how many other memoirs I've read were partly or mostly made up? I never came across one where the author wrote to tell the truth of his lie. I haven't read it, but I think it was brave of him to do that. Not many people would admit it, much less write a book about it.

OCD Michael said...

It is unfortunate he lied. Even if it was a mechanism to help him cope, initially selling it to the public as a true story is where he crossed the line from coping mechanism to dishonest marketing.

Unfortunately, this does give the Holocast deniers ammo for their slander.

carolsnotebook said...

I do think it's kind of odd that Holt chose to write a fictionalized version of Herman's story, when the problem with his original story was that it was fiction he passed off as fact. Especially when it's not clear in Holt's book what is truly fiction and what isn't. I think I'll be passing on the book.

That being said, I agree with you that we can never really understand what the survivor's went through, how they individually managed to live day after day. And even later, the memories and dreams must have haunted them.

Anna said...

I received an email from the author of The Apple, Penelope Holt, asking me to clarify something. The ARC I received labeled the book as a novel, but it is in fact creative nonfiction. This answers my question about why she chose to write a novel instead of a biography.

Thanks to everyone who commented on my review. I've enjoyed reading your thoughts on the topic.

Anna said...

I should have mentioned that the reason the book was relabeled as creative nonfiction, according to Holt, is that the story does not deviate much from Rosenblat's authentic Holocaust story.

Lenore said...

A touchy subject for sure.

Anonymous said...

wonderful penelope holt and herman rosenblat pictures on youtube link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aju4dybTZsc

Staci said...

I absolutely agree with everything you said about using the apple story as a coping mechanism. I don't want to judge anyone either. I do wish he had been truthful but the reason why he wasn't is probably an answer we'll never find out. I "hopefully" will never have to experience all that these survivors and victims had to endure and for that reason alone I believe we should forgive and move on.

lilly said...

It is a very controversial issue but it doesn't diminish Herman's Holocaust survival story in my eyes at all. And I won't judge him either for what he did. But I will certainly put The Apple on my wish list.

DCMetroreader said...

This is a very balanced review of the controversy. He certainly seems a lot more sympathetic than the Million Little Pieces author. Still the problem with getting caught in deceit is it then casts doubt on his veracity as a whole. However, I agree with the point that given that he is a Holocaust survivor no one except other survivors can fully appreciate the impact such trauma has on a person.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

This must have been a tough book to review, Anna. Between the history of Rosenblat's story and the misunderstanding with Holt's retelling (confusion over fiction vs. creative nonfiction) ... you really presented a fair and balanced review.

And it's a shame that people used your giveaway post to rant! I hope that doesn't happen here :)

Anna said...

Thank you all for your comments. This definitely was a difficult one to review, and I appreciate Penelope taking the time to clarify a few points. I think it took me a week to process this one to the point where I could write about it. And I'm thankful all the comments have been respectful. You guys are awesome!

Anonymous said...

look at this. this is the last gawker.com article with video of this rosenblat guy and ms. holt his accomplice. shame on them both. profiting off the death of 6 million.

gawker link:

http://gawker.com/5330138/lying-holocaust-author-recounts-tale-of-thing-that-never-happened

Anonymous said...

"angel at the fence" was a terrific book. i loved this book. the author did a wonderful job. found the book online.

Anna said...

Anonymous: I had no idea Angel at the Fence was released in any format.