Oprah believed him. So did literary agents, book publishers and movie producers.
But Holocaust survivor Sidney Finkel of Tucson says he never bought the concentration camp love story told by Herman Rosenblat.
“I knew the story was a lie,” said Finkel, 77, who was in some of the same Nazi concentration camps as Rosenblat as a young Polish boy. The two were liberated to England together and have known each other since they were teens.
Finkel, who wrote his own memoir and speaks to 7,500 students and adults a year about his experiences, worries that Rosenblat’s made-up story damages the credibility of all survivors.
“It creates doubt in people’s minds,” said Finkel, a retired appliance salesman and the father of five and grandfather of nine. “Everyone’s memoir is in doubt now.”
On Saturday, Rosenblat, who lives in Florida, recanted the story of a girl who saved him from starvation during the Holocaust by tossing apples and bread over the concentration camp fence for nearly seven months. The story was to be the subject of a memoir and a major motion picture.
After liberation, Rosenblat and Roma Radzicky met in New York on a blind date and, during conversation, discovered Roma had been Herman’s angel, or so the story went. They have been married for more than 50 years.
But now Rosenblat, 79, admits the story was untrue, and Berkley Books has canceled its plan to publish Rosenblat’s memoir, “Angel at the Fence,” due out in February. As of now, the movie deal is still on.
“Anybody with any experience with the Holocaust would know it would be impossible for a girl to be throwing apples for seven months without being caught,” Finkel said.
He also said Roma years ago shared details with him about her whereabouts during the Holocaust that put her living 200 miles away from the concentration camp.
And Rosenblat’s brother, also a survivor, told Finkel before his death that he was angry at Herman for making the story up, Finkel said.
“He just loved the publicity,” Finkel said of Rosenblat. “He wanted to be able to tell a great story and he must have felt the true story wasn’t good enough, so he made it up. It’s very bad for the Jews and it’s hurting all the survivors.”
In 2005, Finkel published his memoir, “Sevek and the Holocaust: The Boy Who Refused to Die.”
Finkel, who changed his name from Sevek to Sidney, has spent the last 14 years telling his story to about 100,000 children and adults in Tucson and around the country, he said.
He and his wife of more than 40 years, Jean, live in Tucson eight months out of the year. They live the rest of the year in the Midwest.
Finkel, who was liberated from the German concentration camp Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, tells his story so the world will not forget the horrors of the Holocaust. But he worries about the impact Rosenblat’s fabrication, which is making international headlines, will have.
Finkel is a source in a recent New Republic magazine story that led to Rosenblat’s admission that the story was untrue.
Historical records prove Rosenblat was at Buchenwald and other camps, according to the Associated Press. But he admitted in a statement through his agent that he fabricated the story of the girl and the apples.
“I wanted to bring happiness to people,” Rosenblat is quoted as saying. “I brought hope to a lot of people. My motivation was to make good in this world.”
In the tale, which he entered in a short story contest in the 1990s, Rosenblat wrote about how his mother died in the Holocaust. She later came to him in a dream, telling the 11-year-old she would send him an angel.
The angel appeared in the form of a 9-year-old girl.
The couple reportedly never told anyone the story for nearly 50 years, until Rosenblat wrote about it.
The story captivated the world. The Rosenblats twice appeared on the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” with Winfrey calling it “the single greatest love story. . . we’ve ever told on the air.” It was made into a children’s book, was to be published as a memoir and filming was to begin in March.
But for years, rumors swirled among survivors and historians that Rosenblat made it all up. How could a girl toss apples over a concentration camp wall for seven months, undetected?
Finkel said the story trivializes the horrors of the Holocaust.
“The Holocaust is not a happy story,” said Finkel, whose parents, two sisters, nine uncles and aunts and dozens of cousins died in the Holocaust.
As many as 6 million Jews and others died between 1933 and 1945, according to Yad Vashem, an organization dedicated to preserving Holocaust history.
“It is our families bones, their deaths. I am very angry at him. He says he did it to make us happy, but it was a lie.”
Finkel said the story also provides ammunition to those who claim the Holocaust was a hoax.
The horrors of the Holocaust were so great, some survivors end up trying to “outdo” others in how terrible their experiences were, he said.
But Finkel is determined to keep the history of the Holocaust alive by sharing his experiences.
“This is the purpose of my life,” he said.