Thursday, July 30, 2015

Holocaust Stories: Angels at Two Fences

The Internet is recognized as a great information tool but, alas, also as a font of misinformation (hopefully not from this blog, though my wife and sister would say I get a lot of family history wrong. I respond that it’s my blog, history is what the blogger in the family says it is, and if they have another version they can write their own blog or send in a comment).

If you spend any time on the Internet receiving emails or logging onto Facebook or other social media sites, you undoubtedly will come across some unbelievable stories. My modus operandi when one of these tall tales pops onto my screen is to fact check them.

So it was that the other day I challenged an email carrying the Holocaust survival and love story of Herman and Roma Rosenblat. While hiding out on a farm outside Berlin, Roma was said to have thrown food every day for seven months to Herman inside the Buchenwald concentration camp. Herman ended the war in Theresienstadt and didn’t see Roma again until, amazingly, they went on a blind date in 1957 in New York City. They married shortly thereafter. Herman wrote a book about Roma, Angel at the Fence, appeared twice on The Oprah Winfrey Show and had his book optioned to become a film.

Alas, Herman admitted the story of the girl at the fence was all a hoax. The book was never published. The film was scrapped. Herman died earlier this year after more than 50 years of marriage to Roma. He was 85.

It was a story perhaps too good to be true. And yet, in my family, a similar story transpired. Distant cousins in France fled into Switzerland. The family of four was separated into three displaced person camps, the father in one, the mother and a newborn girl in another, and seven-year-old Miriam in a third.  

Miriam was able to see her mother from time to time during their three years of internment. An enduring memory for her was receiving food thrown by Swiss children over the camp fence. One of those children grew up to become her husband. 

When I first met Miriam in the summer of 1966, she and her husband, a struggling artist, lived in a garrote of an apartment in Paris. He didn’t speak any English. My French, based on two years of study in high school, was mostly limited to Ou est la bibliotheque? (where is the library?), merci (thank you), and s’il vous plaĆ®t (if you please). Our speech limitations notwithstanding, he and I ventured off to the Louvre. 

Sadly I couldn’t take advantage of his expert commentary. But as I wandered around the Louvre, mostly oblivious to the treasures before me, he did manage to point out the Venus de Milo standing amidst other statues, and, after I had walked past it, he brought me back to view the Mona Lisa (back then the da Vinci portrait was treated like any other painting, hanging nondescriptly on a wall with other works of art). 

After my few days in Paris I never saw him again for he and Miriam could not sustain their fairy tale love story. They divorced well before I returned to Paris decades later.