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A Life in Pieces: The Making and Unmaking of Binjamin Wilkomirski Hardcover – February, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
HWhen Binjamin Wilkomirski published his childhood Holocaust memoir, Fragments, in 1996, it was met with both popular and critical praise. Soon, however, people began to voice concern over its authenticity , which ended in a full-fledged debunking on 60 Minutes in 1999. While much has been written about Wilkomirski, this stunning analysis by journalist Eskin is not only the best and most compelling account of the case, but places it in a broader social, political and cultural context that raises vital issues about history, identity, as well as personal and political responsibility. While the frame of the book is a fascinating personal memoir/journalistic investigation (Eskin's family, immigrant Jews from Latvia, contact Wilkomirski thinking they might be related to him), the power of the work comes from the author's ability to marshal the central arguments over Wilkomirski's life and work in order to illuminate the more important and interesting question of how humans deal with trauma. Moving from the specific, Eskin touches on such broader and controversial topics as what happens when Holocaust memoirs are exposed as fiction, thus giving fuel to Holocaust deniers; how Wilkomirski's book helped assuage Swiss guilt over Switzerland's actions during WWII; how Holocaust literature has become emblematic of human suffering, allowing even non-Holocaust survivors to identify with and take on the metaphors of "the survivor." This is brought home in Eskin's discussion of Lauren Grabowski, a Christian woman posing as a Jewish survivor who, under the name of Lauren Stratford, wrote an enormously popular, and discredited, memoir of child sexual abuse, Satan's Underground. A mixture of thrilling detective work and astute cultural criticism, this is an important contribution to Holocaust literature as well as to studies of psychological and cultural trauma. (Feb.)Forecast: This is bound to get major media attention, as Wilkomirski's story did, and will have brisk sales.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
In 1997, Wilkomirski won acclaim for Fragments, his memoir of surviving the Holocaust as a young Jewish boy and was then accused of being a gentile who made the whole thing up. Here, journalist Eskin, who is related to the Wilkomirskis the author claimed as his own, tries to penetrate the mystery.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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As a longtime student of the Holocaust, I was therefore fascinated by Wilkomirski's exposure as Bruno Doessekker, the Swiss birth-child of Yvonne Berthe Grosjean, who surrendered her son for adoption in 1945; he was ultimately adopted by the Doessekkers.
Stefen Maechler's Wilkomirski Affair (2001) provided a superb and thorough expose of the fraud Bruno Grosjean Doessekker perpetrated. Maechler pursued every possible lead, compared each minute detail in Doessekker's narration of "events" with historical records from such leading Holocaust scholars as Raul Hilberg and Lawrence Langer and accounts of other child survivors. He interviewed members of the Doessekker and Grosjean families and more. The most damning evidence Maechler unearthed was that in 1981, Doessekker/Wilkomirski contested the will of Yvonne Grosjean, whom, in a letter to officials in Bern Switzerland, he called "my birth mother." He received a third of her estate.
Wilkomirski/Doessekker had also used Laura Grabowski, who claimed to have known him in a children's home in Krakow, to "corroborate" his story. In fact, Grabowski is an American citizen of Christian faith who has since her youth fabricated stories about her victimhood, the most well-publicized being a book called Satan's Sideshow: The Real Story of Lauren Stratford. Lauren Stratford's Social Security number is the same as that of Grabowski, who used it to make a false survivor's claim. Maechler even found similarities between Satan's Sideshow and Fragments. But Maechler did not answer the question of how Wilkomirski/Doessekker drew people in.
Blake Eskin masterfully picks up that loose strand from a personal perspective: His maternal great-grandmother Anna Wilbur had immigrated in 1929 to New York from Riga--the Latvian city Wilkomirski/Doesseker said he was from. Her family had changed their surname name from Wilkomirski to Wilbur on their arrival in New York. Moreover, Anna Wilbur's brother and sister-in-law had in 1926 lived at 80 Moskva Street, the same address Wilkomirski/Doessekker claimed as his. Thus was Eskin's family taken in.
They understandably longed for news of distant relations left behind in Riga, years before the Holocaust. They knew existentially what the Holocaust had done. They had not yet personalized the loss, however. In that context, it is not surprising that Eskin's mother, Eden Force Eskin, and her first cousin once removed, Miriam Vim, wanted to believe that Wilkomirski/Doesseker was Anna Wilbur's long lost nephew.
Eskin takes readers on his two-fold journey, as he discovers both Doessekker/Wilkomirski's fraud and his family's roots in Riga and Israel. He covers some of the same ground as Maechler, but he adds a human dimension of which Maechler's sturdy reportorial account is devoid.
This book opens new intellectual and emotional understanding to losses suffered by the world's Jewish community during the Holocaust. Even now, families that once believed they had completely escaped that terrible trauma are discovering whom and what they lost---family, culture, language, and an entire world. Though but one example of that discovery, Eskin's investigations prove somewhat archetypal.
The Nazi Holocaust extinguished the lives of roughly a third of the Jewish people. Some families, like Eskin's, remained for years oblivious to their personal losses. But Eskin shows that very few were untouched. In that context, it's easy to see why families still hope to find their members among the living. And that context is the only thing that can lay the Wilkomirski/Doessekker fraud to its final and necessary rest.
---Alyssa A. Lappen