By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
But when Ganzfried published his findings in the Swiss newspaper Weltwoche, Wilkomirski hedged, telling a reporter, "It was always the free choice of the reader to read my book as literature or to take it as a personal document. Nobody has to believe me." That said, the author went into seclusion. Suhrkamp Verlag washed its hands of any discrepancies between the "Binjamin Wilkomirski" of Fragments and the "Bruno Grosjean" of the adoption papers.
Ganzfried has not released copies of the adoption papers to which he gained access. But, as he pointed out in an interview, the records are confidential, and Wilkomirski is the only one with the power to release the actual documents to the public. To Ganzfried's knowledge, neither Wilkomirski's agent nor his German publisher asked the author to do so. After the charges were published last summer, Ganzfried says, "Samuelson could have taken the lead" by asking Wilkomirski to release the papers.
Of all the writers to have sized up Wilkomirski, The New Yorker's Philip Gourevitch takes the most postmodern approach, focusing on the process by which a bad piece of literature came to be hailed a Holocaust classic. (He sees Fragments as a 1990s twist on Jerzy Kosinski's novel The Painted Bird, another Holocaust account that was accepted, and acclaimed, as autobiography, before it was exposed as something less than the truth.) "What I find amazing here," says Gourevitch, "is that some miserable Swiss gentile was totally ahead of the zeitgeist by deciding that to be a Holocaust victim is a desirable, bankable, covetable identity."
But Gourevitch doesn't think the act was intentional; he calls Fragments a "chronicle of a delusion." And if one accepts, for the sake of argument, that Wilkomirski is crazy, then questions about identity and motive are irrelevant. But that analysis skirts the most burning issue in this case: a missing DNA sample.
Indeed, Wilkomirski scholars are now at the same pass Ken Starr reached last summer, when he had the blue dress in sight and all that was left was to coerce the prez into donating a blood sample. Only, in this case, the blue dress is an old man named Max Grosjean, brother of the deceased Swiss woman who is believed to have been Wilkomirski's mother. Grosjean is said to be willing to give blood for a match-upbut Wilkomirski is not. (As the author of Fragments told The New Yorker, "What would it prove?")
Gourevitch says he finds the idea of using genetic testing to resolve a cultural quandary a bit "perverse." But, when pressed, he admits that the DNA test "would be a way of closing the case. Then you would have a scientific confirmation of what appears to be a watertight Swiss record that appears to correspond to all the documentary sources outside of [the author's] brain. The only reason we have to doubt that he is Bruno Grosjean is that he claims he isn't."
So why are the publishers stonewalling? Lappin says they're "deeply embarrassed" and Gourevitch concurs: "When it comes to the way Wilkomirski's publishers have handled this, there's been a lot of buck-passing, evasion, and the wish that this would just go away." Ganzfried calls the publishers' position "dishonest and hypocritical, especially for people who claim to be concerned about the Holocaust....They thought they could sit out the case, just let the controversy run, and sell the book even better."
The buck now stops with the author's literary agent, Eva Koralnik. Koralnik told The New Yorker that she has begged Wilkomirski to take the DNA test. As a last resort, she has commissioned a Swiss historian named Stefan Mächler to investigate. Of course, it's hard to see how an investigator paid by someone with a financial stake in the matter could reach an objective conclusion, but Ganzfried thinks Mächler is capable. He hopes the historian will be given "full and unconditional" access, not only to the adoption records, but also to the files of the publishers and the agent, to determine whether they were complicit in any way. "If he has some guts and he really is an independent historian," says Ganzfried, "he will force them to show him their files, or else give back his contract."
If Mächler fails, there is one last hope. Blake Eskin, a Jewish Forward editor who first broke the story in the U.S., is now writing a book about the Wilkomirski case for Norton. At press time, Eskin was in Latvia, researching his own roots in a family named Wilkomirski.