IT WAS a tale of love blossoming in a world of hate and a bright light amid the darkness of the Holocaust.
A young Jewish boy first met his future wife when she secretly passed food through the wire fence of a Nazi concentration camp, in an act hailed by Oprah Winfrey as "the single greatest love story".
It was, unfortunately, a lie.
The memoir of Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat is to be pulped and a lucrative advance returned after he admitted that the central story which brought him fame and a seat on Oprah Winfrey's sofa was made up.
Mr Rosenblat, 79, from Miami, Florida, was virtually unknown until the 1990s when he began speaking of how he came to know his wife, Roma Radzicky.
According to Mr Rosenblat and his wife, he was a prisoner at a sub-camp of Buchenwald in Nazi Germany and she a young Jewish girl whose family lived nearby pretending to be Christian. For months, they would meet on opposite sides of a barbed-wire fence, where she would sneak him apples and bread. Mr Rosenblat was then transferred to another camp and the pair lost touch until the 1950s, when they were reunited by accident – on a blind date – in New York. They soon married and this year celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
The story of their meeting was to be told in Angel At The Fence, due to be published in February by Berkley Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group.
But they withdrew the book following allegations by scholars, friends and family members that Mr Rosenblat's tale was untrue. In a statement issued yesterday through his agent, Andrea Hurst, Mr Rosenblat said: "I wanted to bring happiness to people. I brought hope to a lot of people. My motivation was to make good in this world."
Scholars, however, had doubted the story, saying the layout of the sub-camp made such an encounter at the fence virtually unthinkable as they would have met right by an SS barracks. A recent article in The New Republic quoted friends and family members who were so outraged that one of his brothers stopped speaking to him.
The Rosenblats were interviewed twice over the years by Winfrey, who has called their romance "the single greatest love story … we've ever told on the air".
They have inspired a children's book and a film adaptation is due to begin next year. The film's producer, Harris Salamon of Atlantic Overseas Pictures, has defended Mr Rosenblat and said "the film will proceed".
Unlike such discredited Holocaust memoirists as Misha Defonseca, Misha: A Memoir Of The Holocaust Years and Benjamin Wilkomirski, Fragments, Mr Rosenblat is indeed a survivor and records prove that he was at the Buchenwald camp. "All of the story about Herman in the concentration camps and the love and survival of him and his brothers he states is true," Ms Hurst said.
A spokesman for Berkley said: "Berkley Books is canceling publication of Angel At The Fence after receiving new information from Herman Rosenblat's agent, Andrea Hurst. Berkley will demand that the author and the agent return all money that they have received for this work."
Literary fiction has often posed as fact
LITERARY fiction posing as fact has a notable history.
It is worth remembering that Truman Capote, hailed as the inventor of the non-fiction novel, with his meticulous account of a true-life murder, In Cold Blood, later followed it up with a "memoir" called Hand Carved Coffins, which was later found to be fiction.
Yet the popularity of misery memoirs has led to a number of authors printing fiction as fact. Oprah Winfrey was duped before by James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, an account of his drug addiction and incarceration which was later found to be false.
Penguin has already had to break ties with two authors this year. In March, the publisher pulled Margaret B Jones's Love and Consequences after the author acknowledged she had invented her story of befriending gang members in Los Angeles. A month later, Penguin parted with romance writer Cassie Edwards over allegations that she had lifted numerous passages from other sources.
Meanwhile, survivors and scholars fear that the Rosenblat case will encourage Holocaust deniers and the cancellation will revive the debate over why publishers do not fact-check books.
However, publishers say that fact-checking is too time-consuming and expensive.