Documents on those who Lie about the Holocaust
Introduction ... HOLOCAUST LIBELLERS LIKE DEBORAH LIPSTADT often lament that, in the total absence of documents to back the central tenets of their story, when the last survivor has died there will be "nothing" left to buttress their beliefs. The problem is that many of the survivors turn out to be nothing of the sort. Even the Nobel Prize winning memoir-writer Eli Wiesel had difficulty remembering precisely which camp or camps he had been in (and to this day he suppresses the uncomfortable memory that when he broke a limb, it was the S.S. camp hospital which helped him to recover). To their great credit, responsible Jewish journalists have now recognised the damage the fraudulent memoirs are doing to their tragic history, and they are exposing the fraudsters.
We shall publish on this Website every example brought to our attention, as our contribution to researching the truth about the Holocaust. The following article appeared in the highly reputable New York Jewish magazine Forward on July 24, 1998.
New York, July 24, 1998
memoir of a Survivor--
A Literary Collaboration Gone Awry Lies Behind 'Man of Ashes'
By ILAN STAVANS
Mr. Stavans is a Guggenheim Fellow at the University of London Institute of Latin American Studies. He is the editor of "The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories," due out this fall.
I FIRST HEARD about Salomón Isacovici's "Man of Ashes" when it was published in Mexico in 1990, The first-person account of an Ecuadorian Holocaust survivor, the book was warmly received, and a year later Mexico's Jewish community awarded it the Fernando Jeno prize. "Man of Ashes" follows Isacovici from his childhood in Sighet, Romania, through the assassination of his parents and four siblings and his involvement with the Zionist group Hashomer Hatzair to his emigration in 1948 to Ecuador, where he began by working at menial jobs before becoming a successful entrepreneur. At the heart of the book are tales of death and endurance at Auschwitz, Gross Rosen, Javorsuo and other Nazi camps, and these scenes are filled with sharp insights into human suffering.
What distinguishes "Man of Ashes" from most survivors' memoirs is its Latin American connection. Fewer than half a million Jews now make their homes in Latin America, and Ecuador's Jewish community has about 2,000 members. Though accounts of Nazi hunting in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil are fairly common, as far as I know, fewer than a dozen Holocaust memoirs by local survivors have been published. Jews have risen economically, socially and, in countries like Argentina and Brazil, politically, yet since colonial times, when crypto-Jews sought shelter from the Inquisition, Latin America has never been quite comfortable with its Jewish immigrants. And the powerful Catholic Church has been instrumental in aggravating this discomfort.
An English translation of "Man of Ashes" has been prepared, and the University of Nebraska Press plans to publish it, but the book is unlikely to appear soon. The reason for this is that the man whom Isacovici hired as his co-author, a former Jesuit priest named Juan Manuel Rodríguez, says that "Man of Ashes" is not Isacovici's autobiography but a book he wrote based upon the events of Isacovici's life. Mr. Rodríguez has hired a lawyer in Nebraska, who has contacted the university and has asserted that his client has contractual and intellectual property rights that could be violated if the University of Nebraska Press publishes "Man of Ashes."
"It was me who wrote the book," Mr. Rodríguez told the Forward in an electronic-mail message. "Salomón is my novel's protagonist, I am his author."
The contract between Salomón Isacovici and Juan Manuel Rodríguez describes the two men as co-authors, according to both Mr. Rodríguez and the Isacovici family. Salomón Isacovici can no longer be asked to clarify the nature of their agreement, since he died in February, but a 1995 letter states, "I, Salomón Isacovici, am the legitimate author of [Man of Ashes]." It goes on, "After all, it is my autobiography. And I hired Mr. Rodríguez after [the manuscript] was written, in order to help me with the literary and structural parts of the book. I paid him for his work, and agreed in a contract that, should it be published, he would receive his share of the profits."
Mr. Rodríguez told me that at the point he got involved, Isacovici had written 100 double-spaced pages, with extra space between paragraphs. "The total would have amounted to about 40 printed pages," he said. Mr. Rodríguez said that an agreement was signed between the two parties in which Mr. Rodríguez was to be paid $4 per finished page.
"He simply wanted me to put his experiences in regular Spanish, so that he could keep the memoir for himself and his family," Mr. Rodríguez said. "I refused on the grounds that I am not a corrector, a spelling- and style-checker. He didn't accept my view. I asked to borrow the first few pages and in a single night I turned them into part of the first chapter, which came out almost without need of revision. When I showed it to him, Salomón realized the material had potential. We then started to work. I wrote the entire work, its title included, in six months, based upon his manuscript and mutual conversations."
"I would use my memories in the Iberian countryside as inspiration," he added.
His description of the editorial process sounds a bit like a transubstantiation, in which Isacovici's soul inhabits Mr. Rodríguez. "When I would show Salomón the result, he would be amazed at how much I knew about his past. To the point that I invented passages and details and afterward he believed he had lived through them. For him the book is an autobiography; for me it is a charming novel."
He repeatedly referred to "Man of Ashes" as a novel, although the word is never mentioned in the Spanish edition. Instead, the cover describes the volume as "El testimonio crudo y fiel de los campos nazis de concentración" &emdash; the cruel and truthful testimony of the Nazi concentration camps. (According to Isacovici's son Ricardo, the contract with the Mexican publisher was cancelled after Mr. Rodríguez said that, although he is given equal billing on the cover, he deserves more credit; the Spanish edition has been taken out of circulation.)
This treatment of the book as fiction angers Ricardo Isacovici. "A novel?" he asked incredulously. "Everything in it is absolutely true. Not a single iota is fiction . . . Rodríguez, while drafting what my father would tell him in long hours of conversations, had a tendency to overwrite and fantasize. But Papa would bring him to his senses, eliminating all embellishments."
Mr. Rodríguez, however, is insistent. "I achieved a rare success: to become my own protagonist through a variety of novelistic devices," he said. "That is because Salomón and I share common experiences."
Mr. Rodríguez, the author of several novels and collections of stories, was born in Bilbao, Spain, in 1945 and grew up under Franco. "I, too, lost my father at age 11, left my home at 18 and so on," he said. "I transposed many of my philosophical views to Salomón. My philosophical formation helped achieve the transplant, and succeeded in turning the book. from a simple account to a novel of ideas."
When asked why "Man of Ashes . . . had never been promoted as a novel, Mr. Rodríguez replied succinctly: "That is besides the point." But it isn't. In fact, the question itself is the very heart of the matter: as a novel the volume is predictable and unimaginative; as a memoir, it is not only harrowing but essential. In any case, Mr. Rodríguez has succeeded in injecting a degree of uncertainty that is unlikely to disappear: Is "Man of Ashes" Salomón Isacovici's authentic tale of survival and redemption? Or is it the product of the imagination of an ex-priest?
It is up to readers to decide. But that won't happen unless the book becomes available in Spanish again and unless its English translation leaves the voiceless warehouse where it sits and reaches its audience.
"He is censoring Isacovici's voice in the United States," said the director of University of Nebraska Press Daniel Ross. Mr. Ross, who views the book as an assisted autobiography thinks that Mr. Rodríguez has no legal right to block publication of "Man of Ashes" and has been ready to release the book for the past year. The University of Nebraska's lawyers, however, have advised the press not to publish unless the family puts $25,000 in escrow to pay legal fees should Mr. Rodríguez decide to sue for breach of contract or copyright infringement. Mr. Ross said that Mr. Rodríguez had "handcuffed us."
The heirs of Salomón Isacovici also feel they have been handcuffed by Mr. Rodríguez's claims. "My father survived the Holocaust to tell the world his haunting odyssey, only to be deprived of it," said Ricardo Isacovici. "The bills after Papa's death were quite high. He didn't have insurance. The family is broke I don't have the $25,000 Nebraska needs to publish the memoir and neither do my siblings. The only tangible asset Papa left us and all future generations is 'Man of Ashes."'