Friday, November 30, 2018

Truth or consequences? Controversy indelibly inked on World War II Holocaust love tale

NEWS ALERT! "The Australian" Dec. 6 - by Fiona Harari - HEADLINE: " The Tattooist of Auschwitz is distorting, Holocaust historians say'' 

Controversy indelibly inked on World War II Holocaust love tale

PHOTO: Mum Gita, little Gary, and father Lali in the 1960s in Melbourne
''The Tattooist of Auschwitz'' is ‘based on a so-called true story’, but given that it’s a sex and romance Holocaust novel based on a big fat white lie, does it really matter if there’s a few whoppers, tall tales and outright mistakes?  Yes, it does!

  •  @overingtonc on Twitter

  • He pushed the Nazi-engineered needle machine into her arm, starting the process of tattooing a number that would forever identify her as a Jew, and as a prisoner of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Although it was not her first tattoo. In fact, he was asked to re-do an old tattoo that was wearing off. So he was a re-do man, a make-over man.
    As the tattooist in the camps, he had of course done something similar a thousand times before, but this was different. He felt it, as the needle went in; she felt it, too.
    In the process of inking her arm, he had fallen in love.
    This, as devoted readers around the world will know, is the pivotal, as well as the opening scene in The Tattooist of Auschwitz by debut Melbourne screenwriter-novelist Heather Morris, 70, who is not Jewish and admits she doesn't know much about Jewish history or the Holocaust, having grown up as a child in  small rural New Zealand town where there were no Jews, at least she says she never met one until she moved to Australia as an adult.

    The controversial novel tells the alleged story of a real-life tätowierer, or tattooist, one of a team of tattooists in the camp and not the only one in Auschwitz, the late Ludwig (or Lale, or perhaps Lali?) Sokolov, and his wife, Gita (nee Furman) who allegedly met in the Nazi concentration camp during the war, and allegedly became torrid and sexually hot lovers inside the camp, often making X-rated love in full view of the Nazi guards, while both were prisoners in the Nazi camp.
    The couple survived the Holocaust, married and later moved to Melbourne, Australia, where they had a son, Gary, now 60. Now both Lali and Gita are long dead, and their love story, or at least the telling of it in fiction form, by a previously unknown non-Jewish Melbourne writer, is generating some heated controversy in literary circles worldwide, from The New York Times to the Times of Israel blog website and the San Diego Jewish World newspaper edited by Don Harrison.
    The Tattooist of Auschwitz is said its editor and publisher in marketing material and on front cover of the book itself to be allegedly “based on a true story”, but how much of this book is real, and how much is imagined?
    Given that it’s a novel, does it matter if there are few mistakes, mis-steps, big fat white lies or outright falsehoods? Yes, it does matter and time will tell just where truth really does lie.
    Also, what if any obligation does Heather Morris have to her subject’s family, in particular to Gary Sokolov — a child of Holocaust survivors — and his three children born in Melbourne?
    The two sides -- Morris (and her publisher )and the Sokolov family --  were once close, but now they are dealing with what Morris describes as “issues”, some of which are believed to be about their confidential financial agreement drawn up before the book took off. So now you see, the old canard, Jews and money. Well done, Heather, well done.

    Author Heather Morris with her publisher Angela Meyer. Picture: David Geraghty.
    Author Heather Morris with her publisher Angela Meyer @literaryminded  on Twitter. Photo by: David Geraghty.
    ''The Tattooist of Auschwitz'' is this year’s global publishing sensation. It has over 1 million copies in print now. According to figures supplied by Nielsen BookScan, the book is Australia’s Number 1 fiction title over the first nine months of the year, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It is also No. 1 on the paperback fiction bestseller lists in Britain and in the USA, and the TV rights, for a mini-series to be shown globally to coincide with the 75th anniversary in 2020 of the liberation of the camps, have been sold as well, with a Jewish-Australian screenwriter hired to write the script.
    Morris says Gary Sokolov started out supporting the book but had “backed away a bit”.
    “I can understand that,” she says. “It must be difficult, having your family’s story out there in a big way all of a sudden, and yes, there’s been a few issues, but I don’t think it’s Gary; I think it’s his wife. The Jewish wife canard. A shrew if there ever was one! She’s become fixated on what she says are ''some'' mistakes, but I’ve said from the start, all I’m doing is telling the story that Lali allegedly told me and if I manipulated some of his memories and recollections to fit my idea of a marketable screenplay for a movie. so what?"
    “It’s not a memoir. It’s fiction, and if people want to quibble, fine, you’ll always get that.” The Sokolovs, neither Gary nor his wife, did not respond to this newspaper's requests for comment.
    There is no question that Morris displayed remarkable patience and persistence in bringing Sokolov’s story to the public’s attention, as did her very naive and young non-Jewish editor and publisher, Angela Meyer, from Echo Press. “This is a great story, because it’s about a little book that we believed in, that has become a huge success,” Meyer, who refuses to respond directly to her Jewish critics overseas  and blocks them on Twitter to keep them at bay, says, “and especially because I came across it when I was still pretty new to the job, so this has been incredible for me, too.”
    Before discovering The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Meyer had been “a book reviewer, a blogger, I’d worked in a bar” and she had been busy writing her own, well-reviewed debut, A Superior Spectre. But she hadn’t been getting many pitches for her own novel from literary agents, “so I was trying to be creative about ways to find great new books”.
    She decided to have a look on Kickstarter, which is like a GoFundMe for people who want to start creative projects. There she found Morris, who was at the time trying to raise money to self-publish “this amazing story”. “We met, we had a coffee,” and Meyer immediately felt “tingles up my arms, all over my body, ­really”. “I mean: what a story,” she says.
    Morris says she came across Lali’s story almost by accident. “I had always wanted to write a screenplays, for TV or Hollywood, except I had all these other responsibilities: I was married, we had three kids, I worked for 21 years in the social work department at the Monash Medical Center. In the canteen one day, a friend told me that she had a friend, the son of a Holocaust survivor living in Australia, Gary Sokolov, who was looking for somebody to write his father’s story.”
    She went to meet the man she calls Lali, and they became friends. “At this point, his wife Gita had only just died, and she had never wanted Lali to talk about what they’d been through in the camps,” Morris says, “but he was 87, and he kept saying he really wanted to hurry up and join Gita in heaven, if there is a heaven for Jews who do not accept Jesus as the son of God, but he wanted somebody to tell his story first.”
    She says she told him: “You know I’m not Jewish?”
    “And he said, good, he didn’t want a Jewish writer. He didn’t want anyone with any ethnic or religious baggage, or Holocaust family history. I told him, I don’t think I even met a Jewish person growing up (in a small town in New Zealand, before moving to Australia at age 18) or not to my knowledge.”
    Morris frankly admits she didn’t know much about the Holocaust, either. She hadn’t read Elie Wiesel, or Viktor Frankl, or Primo Levi, or Martin Gilbert. She had seen Schindler’s List, at the movies, “and that’s how I saw Lali’s story, as a Hollywood movie. Lali even told me that he envisioned several famous Hollywood actors to play him and his wife in the movie, if it was ever made.''
    She wrote a screenplay allegedly based on his life, and their wild sex and romanatic love story, and it got optioned by some screenplay contests, not once but twice, but those options lapsed, twice, over a ten year period. “I was losing hope,” Morris says, “but even on Lali’s death bed, I was saying to him: I will never stop trying to tell your story.”
    Lali died, aged 90, in 2006.

    The bestselling book.
    The bestselling book, with over 1 million copies in print in 25 languages.
    Meyer says she knew deep down in her heart that the book would be a success, “because we’d have a meeting about it at work, and all the Australian women in my office would be crying”. She says they discussed writing The Tattooist of Auschwitz as a ''memoir,'' but Morris says she wanted it to be ''fiction.''
    In the year since it was published in 2017, some Jewish readers and Holocaust historians at the @AuschwitzMuseum in Poland have come forward, complaining about inaccuracies. For example, Morris writes — not once, but 3 times in the book — that the number that Lali tattooed on Gita’s arm was ''34902.''
    Holocaust historians and Jewish educcators say that a woman who entered Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942 would have received a four-digit number, and there is some evidence for that, including from Gita herself.
    Like thousands of Holocaust survivors from around the world, both Gita and Lali Sokolov agreed in the late 1990s to give oral testimony for the USC Shoah Foundation.
    Their tapes can be viewed only in person, at places such as Yad Vashem in Israel, at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin and at the Sydney Holocaust Museum.
    Gita was interviewed by researcher Nick Fischer in Melbourne on January 30, 1997. The two-hour-long tape shows her talking about being transported to Auschwitz, where she was stripped of all her possessions, and shorn of her hair.
    She is asked: “Did you have a number?”
    In a loud, clear voice, she replies “4562” — which obviously is quite different from 34902.
    Morris says she “wrote down what Lali told me”.
    “Since the book came out, I’ve heard that the number in the book can’t be her number, that she had a four-digit number, but I’m not writing the official history, I’m writing Lali’s story, and that is what he told me, or what I maybe unintentionally manipulated him into saying, that he tattooed her with that number, so it could be that he tattooed her a second time,” she says. "Then again, he was an old man when I met him and maybe he was making some things up just to please me and get the screenplay made into a Hollywood movie."
    Some Jewish readers have questioned whether the tattooing of Gita by Lali ever happened, but Gita leaves no doubt that it was Lali who tattooed his lover.
    On the Shoah tape, Gita says: “And do you know who made it (my number)? My husband. He was the Tätowierer.”
    Gita in old age, before she died, later had her tattoo erased from her skin for reasons unknown.
    Here is a key part of the controversy: The couple don’t say on their tapes that they fell in love when Lali allegedly tattattoed her with a tattooist's needle. In fact, in the second hour of her interview, Gita says of Lali: “I knew him, but not when he made my number, but later on, somehow.”
    Lali, who was interviewed on December 5, 1996, says: “I saw her marching one day, a very beautiful girl (with a) red little thing (probably a scarf) on her head … she saw me, and somehow we started [falling in love].”
    A Nazi guard offered to deliver letters from Lali to Gita, which he then began writing, as per the book.
    Morris says: “You have to remember how much they protected each other. He told me that he remembered the moment very clearly.”
    Gita in her taped interview confirms many of the other stories in Morris’s book, including the dubious final scene, where he allegedly turns up on a horse to find her in Bratislava after the war. For most readers, that scence is total nonsense, romantic silliness. But hey, it's make for great PR material and the newspapers and magazines ate it up without ever questioning the publisher for not vetting the novel better.
    The novel ends with an ''afterword'' by Gary Sokolov, who has previously expressed gratitude to Morris for bringing his father’s story to life. Morris thanks him in the acknowledgments, saying: “You have my gratitude and love always for allowing me into your father’s life and supporting me 100 per cent in the telling of your parents’ incredible story.”
    Now they disagree even over the spelling of his father’s name.
    “Gary’s Jewish wife found a piece of paper that Lali had written on, one sentence, and she reckons the way he spelt his name, it’s an ‘i’ on the end, and now she’s fixated on this,” Morris, who perhaps deep down her New Zealand/Australian psyche may harbor some antisemitic sentiments herself, as many white people in Australia do, even the reporter Caroline Overington herself, who on Twitter in 2009 said some pretty nasty jokes about Jews and gassing them in the Nazi ovens, ...
    “My response has been, this is an 80-plus-year-old, it’s shaky writing, and anyway, Lali read my screenplay, with the name L-A-L-E. That is what he told me his name was.”
    In the USA version of the book, his name will be spelt Lali. It will also print the correct number of her tattoo before she later had it removed in old age in Australia.
    Of the various controversies, Meyer says: “With a big popular Oprah-style New Age success there will always be other things that will come out of the woodwork, especially from Jewish readers and Polish scholars the Auschwitz Museum in Poland, but on the whole it’s a book that has moved so many people and made such a positive impact and I’m so proud of what the book has become. If some critics all it a Holocaust literary hoax, as one Jewish blogger has been doing, that's his problem.”
    Morris agrees. She visited Auschwitz for the first time in 2018. “It was interesting,” she says, “because I walked down the corridor, I knew, the men’s camp would be there, the rooms for the gypsies there, it was exactly as he had described it. Exactly. And telling his story has meant that I have been able to tell the Holocaust story to a new generation of gullible readers who don't the difference between fact and fiction, and don't really care. All they want is a good cry, and I delivered the goods.”

     is the  ASSOCIATE EDITOR of The Australian

    Caroline Overington has twice won Australia’s most prestigious award for journalism, the Walkley Award for Investigative Journalism; she has also won the Sir Keith Murdoch award for Journalistic Excellence. Her bio on Wikipedia says it all.


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    Thursday, November 29, 2018

    Amazon's New "Cli-Fi" Collection of 7 Short Stories [print and audio] by 7 VIP Writers Expands the Rising and Timely Genre

    Amazon's New "Cli-Fi" Collection of 7 Short Stories [print and audio] by 7 VIP Writers Expands the Rising and Timely Genre

    link provided via ''The Cli-Fi Report News Service''  #clifi

    Amazon's New "Cli-Fi" Collection of 7 Short Stories [print and audio] by 7 VIP Writers Expands the Rising and Timely Genre link provided via ''The Cli-Fi Report News Service''  #clifi

    How Amazon’s New “Cli-Fi” Short

    Story Collection Expands the Genre

    Burning Worlds is Amy Brady’s monthly column dedicated to examining trends in “cli-fi” in partnership with Yale Climate Connections.

    In October, media giant Amazon released a story collection from its own imprint, Amazon Original Stories, titled Warmer.  It features literary giants such as Edan Lepucki (California), Lauren Groff (Florida), Jess Walters (Beautiful Ruins), Jane Smiley (A Thousand Acres), and others, all writing about one of the world’s most pressing issues – climate change.

    Set up as “cli-fi,” this collection of 7 short stories in print and audio editions spans a range of styles, which together bring to light just how varied the cli-fi genre has become. Some stories are set in the near future, others in the present. All of them brim with compassion, wit, and thoughtful musings on how climate change will alter our planet forever.

    Edan Lepucki, who readers might remember as having won big in the Amazon-Hatchett dispute in 2014, spoke to Amy Brady about what drew her to this collection, her contribution “There’s No Place Like Home,” how she defines “cli-fi,” and why climate change has become one of the most important topics writers can tackle.
    Amy Brady asked:
    What drew you to this fascinating and timely project?

    Edan Lepucki Replied:
    After California came out, I was often asked if I would write more speculative fiction–especially a sequel to that book. I never intended to write a sequel–or to have readers expect one!–and, honestly, after living in that novel’s post-apocalyptic world for three years, I didn’t want to go back in. It was cathartic to write California, but it was also a very dark place to be, and I needed a break. But since 2014, when that novel came out, the world has gotten even scarier, not only our political landscape, but our environmental one as well, and fictional responses to this reality have started to churn in my head once more. When Yael Goldstein Love, who edited Warmer, approached me about writing a story for the anthology, I knew I had to participate. As I wrote, fires were raging throughout California, and now they’re raging again. Communities still haven’t recovered from all the recent hurricanes, and not long before the collection was published, the UN’s climate change report was released. It’s dire, and the things it predicts are also becoming a mundane part of life; for my children, climate change will be a daily burden that can, at any moment, turn into tragedy. I wanted to express that feeling and explore how young people might navigate the world we’re leaving them.
    Amy Brady
    The short story you wrote for this collection, “There’s No Place Like Home,” is also set in California. What about the state inspires you as a writer, and why is it such a rich setting for a work of cli-fi?
    Edan Lepucki
    I’m from LA and except for stints in the Midwest for college and graduate school I’ve always lived in California. Los Angeles in particular speaks to my soul (which seems like a rightly LA kooky thing to say)! It’s a beautiful and strange city, at once wild and primped, with so much mystery that is just perfect for fiction. We’ve also got an ungodly stupid amount of sprawl. That makes for these little secret pockets of communities and neighborhoods that are a total delight to discover… but also put a real strain on the landscape and the environment. We run this city on lots of borrowed water and I can’t think about it too much or I will have a panic attack! So, yes, it’s a magical place, a paradise with a dark side, a glitter of mystery, and also danger. It doesn’t feel like this  tightrope act can persist. It is getting warmer here, and the air feels apocalyptic on days like today, with fires everywhere. What else to write but climate fiction?
    Amy Brady
    Cli-fi often draws from the tropes of sci-fi. But this collection features more realism, what some might even call “literary” fiction. Given the new genre’s many writing styles, how would you define cli-fi?
    Edan Lepucki
    I don’t read much straight science fiction, so I’ll leave it to those who read it, and write it beautifully, to comment. I generally write realism because it’s what I’m most drawn to, as a reader. I think climate fiction isn’t exactly science fiction (or it isn’t anymore) because it’s the reality that we’re living today, and we can easily propel ourselves into a future where it’s the central problem of our existence. I’m not sure what my ‘official’ definition would be, though I’d venture to say it’s where the ravages to the environment affect the plot of the story, as well as its themes and characters. That, then, can be any genre!
    Amy Brady
    What do you hope audiences take away from your story?
    Edan Lepucki
    As with California, one thing I want people to remember is that our actions today will have consequences for future generations. I mean, of course, yes. But when we read about young people struggling in a desiccated future, it can hit closer; in “There’s No Place Like Home” Vic will never grow up. She literally cannot become a woman. That’s been stolen from her, because the world is dying.
    Amy Brady
    I loved your protagonist Vic. Where did she come from?
    Edan Lepucki
    Thank you! I enjoyed writing her and having her voice for a while. The story’s first line, “Daddy died in the sauna,” popped in my head when I was in a sauna in Iceland. I liked how it sounded, and I also wondered: who calls their dad, “Daddy?”  And why did he die in the sauna?  I can’t really tell you how else she appeared, but I can tell you that I wanted her to be tender but tough, smart but naïve, and to have longing in her, even now.

    Wednesday, November 28, 2018

    A message from the future, to the future: a dramatic stage monologue

    The text below is part of a stage play script and contains a dramatic monologue to be delivered to the audience by either a woman or a man in the acting troupe.
    The kind of trouble we're in now regarding climate change and global warming is this: All the scientific reports in the world will not be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
    And all the climate warning novels and movies and Netflix dramas about the emotions of the dire straits we are in won't be able to pick Humpty Dumpty up and put him back together again so he can sit on his happy wall enjoying his care-free life and watching all the people and birds passing by.
    No it's too late for fixes, its too late for emotions, its too late for a cure-all to cure what ails us. We, well, our descendants 30 generations from now, 30 generations down the line from now, they will be doomed, doomed, doomed. Doomed to the Nth degree.

    Why am I saying this? Because I am a moderm-day Jeremiah of sorts and this cri de coeur is my Jeremiad. Humans are doomed in 500 years. Let that sink in a bit, and then okay, then resume reading. What I have to say is hopeful, heartfelt and heartening so listen carefully.

    All we can really do now is start helping our descendants 30 generations down the line to prepare to learn how to die when the Time comes, yes that Time, that Time that as yet has no name, that Time, that Time.

    What can we do? Well, for starters, we begin to start writing guides and making videos that will help our doomed descendants in the distant future learn how to lie down and die in that Time with grace and dignity. We can publish the guides and their accompanying videos generation by generation until the Time, yes that Time, comes.

    Am I nuts? Am I full of despair and hopelessness? No way.

    On the contrary, I'm full of hope and optimism and vision. I have seen the mountain top in my mind's eye and I want to help people get there. 30 generations from now. That's the Time I have my eye set on now. 500 years from now.

    Meanwhile, we can pray, we can play, we can sway, day after day, every day, from today on to that day 500 years from now when that Time will be apparent and visible and expectant. It is our duty to help prepare our descendants for what's going to happen to them circa 2500 a.d. 

    Our books and videos can be hopeful and pragmatic, practical and practiced. We can offer advice to our descendants. We can offer solace, encouragement, grace, redemption. 

    'Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, and all the king's horses and ll the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again." This is our fate. We did this to ourselves. I accept this and understand this profoundly.

    We must tell the future our stories and offer them our guides to that Time of all Times. And they will be at peace with themselves then, as I am at peace with myself and with you now.

    There, I have spoken. I hope it's not too much of a bummer, but hey, what is, is. We did this to ourselves. Be at peace and help those who will come after us to be at peace, too. It's the least we can do. From one generation to the next, starting today and 30 more generations of man, as they come. 

    I am not nuts. I hear them crying, sobbing, wailing. Do you?

    Pass this message on generation by generation, and let it find its own audience when the Time comes. We won't be around then, but we can take comfort in the hope that we helped them prepare in whatever ways we could offer.

    This message is my offering. Yours?

    ''Anthropocene Cli-fi '': A New Way to Write (and Read) Upbeat, Hopeful Novels About Climate Change

    Anthropocene-Fiction: A New Way to Write (and Read) Upbeat, Hopeful Novels About Climate Change With The Rising Genre of Cli-Fi

    If you're not familiar with the new literary genre of 'cli-fi,' you might be soon.

    By staff writers and agencies

    There's  new kid on the literary block, and it's not your grandfather's sci-fi. Call it ''cli-fi" for the Anthropocene.

    The way American scientist John Abraham sees it, the genre term is ''a new way to talk about climate change.''

    "These are fictional books that somehow or someway bring real climate change science to the reader," Abraham, a professor of thermal and fluid sciences at the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering, Minnesota, wrote in a recent opinion piece in the UK Guardian newspaper. ''What is really interesting is that cli-fi novels often present real science in a credible way. They become fun teaching tools. There are some really well-known authors such as Paolo Bacigalupi and Margaret Atwood among others.''

    The genre, also dubbed ''Anthropocene fiction,'' in addition to ''cli-fi,'' has become a publishing phenomenon, with sci-fi novelists Margaret Atwood and Kim Stanley Robinson among those conjuring up ''what if'' near-futures.

    Robinson's latest novel, "New York 2140," is set in that time period and tells an upbeat, hopeful tale about making Manhattan sustainable again. Cli-fi or cli-fi? For some people, the popular new label is simply a new take on science fiction, but for others it's a timely wake-up call that could inspire real change.

    James Bradley, an Australian sci-fi novelist and literary critic whose 2015 book ''Clade'' was one of the first Australian works to be hailed as cli-fi, says it's not easy to make sense of the "incredibly difficult idea" of climate change. Novels, whether categorized as either sci-fi or cli-fi, can give us a way to start thinking about the messages conveyed by climate science in a new way, according to Bradley.

    When thinking about what he believes makes a cli-fi novel worth reading in this day and age, Abraham said: "Well in my opinion, it has to have some real science in it. And it has to get the science right. Second, it has to be fun to read. When done correctly, cli-fi can connect people to their world; it can help us understand what future climate may be like, or what current climate effects are."

    With a series of massive and deadly wildfires this past summer in Greece and California, newspaper headlines and TV reports around the world in 2018 have made the public more aware of climate events linked to global warming. This awareness translates to a hunger to read novels about  climate change with good emotive storytelling, such as novels by Barbara Kingsolver ("Flight Behavior") or
    Bradley or Robinson.
    With the latest IPCC climate report released in October, runaway climate change risks are on everyone's mind now.
    Cli-fi  is in the air. Margaret Atwood tweets about it. Literary critics are taking the portmanteau genre seriously. We have entered ''the Age of Cli-Fi'' in the Anthropocene. We need novels about humankind's future, stories carrying with them hope and optimism. While many media outlets characterize cli-fi as an apocalyptic dystopian genre, the fledgling label has gotten a bad rap. Cli-fi also can tell us postiive and life-affirming tales about the climate future and many do.

    How would I characterize the new genre? Cli-fi novels can take place in the past, the present and the future, the near future and the distant future. They should not be preachy or lecturing to readers. They should be storytelling pure and simple. Family dramas, love stories, psychological tales, and full of emotion and memorable characters.

    They can serve, through powerful and emotive storytelling, to help make readers more conscious of what's at stake as the world warms degree by degree. These novels can be wake-up calls, alarm bells, warning flares but they need not be depressing. I prefer to see them as calls to action, after the last page has been turned.

    I coined the term in 2010 in a press release for a novel titled Polar City Red that I was promoting as a PR consultant for a sci-fi author  in Texas. Margaret Atwood tweeted about the climate-themed book and called it a "cli-fi thriller" in 2011 on her Twitter feed that went to 1 million followers. That single Tweet got the ball rolling. Then in April 2013, NPR did a 5-minute radio segment about cli-fi. The NPR link went viral via social media and marked cli-fi's
    rise to literary prominence. However, most people in America have never heard of it yet or seen its nickname in print. It's still early days. 

    I came to coin the cli-fi term for two reasons: I'm a climate activist of the literary kind. And I felt that climate change was such a huge and dramatic existential issue that it cried out for a literary genre of its own. That was my feeling in 2010, and still is today in 2018. 

    In the end, cli-fi is a literary cousin of sci-fi. The difference between them is that sci-fi is more speculative and escapist and entertainment oriented, while cli-fi is based on reality and real science. That's what sets the two genres apart.

     Cli-fi was made for the 21st Century. And here we are: floods, heat waves, wildfires, droughts, water wars, climate refugees, a major city in South Africa , Capetown, facing water shortages. I didn't invent cli-fi. Cli-fi invented itself. 

    Such novels, with the correct science behind them, can help give readers an emotional release to vent their fears and anxieties about global warming. They are about empathy. That's what good storytelling can do.


    ''Cli-fi stories are vehicles that can help us imagine," Professor Abraham concluded in his Guardian op-ed. "The authors get us to think about these 'what ifs' – these future Earths. Cli-fi novels (and movies for that matter) can make experiences far more real than endless graphs or plots of temperature variations. And that, perhaps, is the most important contribution cli-fi can make to the discussion of climate change in our everyday lives. These authors get us to imagine what experiences are or would be like."

    Do novels about the Holocaust have to be vetted, fact-checked and well-edited? Yes!

    Do novels about the Holocaust have to be vetted, fact-checked and well-edited?

    It's a good question and one that literary critics and Holocaust historians and educators have been grappling with since 1945. Now in 2018, the question remains as important as ever, and new novels about the Nazi concentration camps under Adolph Hitler's rule always bring forther the same question.

    I  asked a few people who have studied the issues involved how they felt about all this and what their answers might be, especially in regard to the recent controversial and much-talked about publication of the Australian bestseller "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" by Heather Morris.

    A veteran editor and publisher in Manhattan, in his 70s, told me: "While I understand some readers' and literary critics' and book reviewers' annoyance with the truthfulness of the book, which says out loud on the cover that it based on 'a true story' when it surely wasn't, it is important to note that the novel really is not a Holocaust hoax, not even a Holocaust literary hoax. I would say that the book is the result poorly-done research more than it is a hoax. For example, Clifford  Irving's autobiography of  the wealthy American eccentric Howard Hughes was a hoax. Phillip Dick's book, The Man in the Castle,' about the Nazis and Japan winning World War II was a case of the author using literary license -- and creating an alternate reality. At worse, Morris' story has a number of historical inaccuracies which means that her editor Angela Meyer at Echo Press in Melbourne should have done more fact-checking, but didn't. I know I would have."

    I replied to the New York editor: "I do appreciate your good feedback, as always. And you are right. Hoax is wrong word to use. I used it in my press releases and tweets on purpose like a smoke bomb. Later, the professional journalists and literary critics will swoop in and will write insightful reports. I'm just the advance party. Then I disappear again, back to my day job. Nobody has to know my name or who I am. I work best quietly in the shadows."

    The editor replied to me to end our conversation: "Danny, I know why you do this, and I know this is not the first time, either. You did it in 2008 and you helped get a real Holocaust hoam memoir cancelled before publication. You did that and you are doing what you are doing now because you don't like to see mistakes in novels or movies that deal with the Holocaust. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. More power to you."

    An American writer who herself has written a novele set during the Holocaust said she was following the controversy over Morris' novel.

    "What most stands out to me is that the author of the novel, Heather Morris, admits that she had not  read any books about the Holocaust before she met Lali and his son, Gary, and that she  just knew about it through movies," she said.  "And I noticed the November 8 article in the New noted that the book's editor Angela Meyer said the novel was fiction so as a result she and her marketing team didn't feel the need to do a large amount of detailed fact-checking. So as an author of a Holocaust novel myself, I lay the blame on Heather's editor and publisher. My own editor caught a lot of errors in the first few drafts of my novel, such as color of Nazi uniforms that I got wrong in my first draft. Without a good editor, I'd be embarrassed, too."

    She added that in her opinion, "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" should be not be part of the canon of Holocaust novels, noting: "I do think that there is now a new movement to capitalize on Holocaust stories. The success of  'The Book Thief,' 'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas' and  'All the Light We Cannot See prompted the publishing trend.

    She added: "I was at a Holocaust-themed panel at a book fair earlier this year. I went first, and got choked up in the middle of my talk but managed to finish. A young writer next to me said he was a Christian and wanted to write his story about a German spy who tried to kill Hitler as an exploration of how Germans who were Christians but active members of the Nazi Party could do what they did during the Hitler period in which six million Jews were killed. He was expressing a genuine feeling, I felt."

    Another book editor who is Jewish and whose own parents came to Ameica after the war after being in a displaced persons camo, told me: "I grew up with many people who had tattooed numbers imprinted on their arms. While my parents were lucky enough to escape into Russia after the fall of Poland, many of the friends they made, as part of the circle of refugees living in the Bronx in New York, did not. As it turned out, my wife's mother, had the concentration camp numbers on her arm. While she may have been considered one of the lucky ones to be liberated, the experience left her a very different person -- having two major nervous breakdowns -- seeing Nazis marching down the streets in the Bronx in Manhattan as an adult later in her life. As a ressult of the nervous breakdowns, at age 13, my wife had to take care of her brother, her father, and the house. Not an easy way to grow up."

    "The numbers on the arms of Holocaust survivors in America seemed to always be a symbol of shame for those who had them," he told me. "As a young child I remember my mother telling me not to look at those people's numbers.''

    I  made contact with a non-Jewish reporter in Australia about the brouhaha over this book, and he told me some very intersteing things.

    "Yeah, the convtroversy over this book is certainly intriguing," he said. "At best, some incorrect recollections or plain inventions by Lali were rendered without checking (the wrong number on Gita's arm was a big miss, for example). On the other hand, at the book launch at the Sydney Jewish Museum with Heather, 95-year-old Holocaust survivor Lotte Weiss and others, Heather made it very plain that she was marketing the book as a novel rather than as a memoir because of the conceit of putting thoughts into characters’ heads."

    "I think it’s a bit harsh for anyone having a go at Heather Morris for not being Jewish. Anyone can write a novel or film script about the Holocaust and many non-Jewish authors have.  And Anthony Beevor has written many compelling histories of World War II  -- Stalingrad, the fall of Berlin --- without being a German or a Russian," he said by email.

    ''Did Lali and Gita meet in Auschwitz, did they fall in love, did they manage some kind of romance -- even if it was only clinging to each other -- in such an awful place? Did he tattoo her arm and was it love at first sight? Did they lose each other and then find each other in post-war Europe afterwards? We shall see," he said, adding: ''But let the chips fall where they may. As one reviewer said, the story in this novel has the quality of  'a dark fairytale.' Perhaps that is what it is.''

    "By the way, at  the book launch in Sydney, Lotte Weiss confirmed that she was tattooed by Lali in Auschwitz when she was an inmate there herself as a young Jewish woman and that she was particularly close to Gita, Lali's girlfriend and lover in the concentration camp,"  he said.

    I replied to my reporter friend in Australia, a well-known journalist there: "As for Heather Morris not being Jewish, I didn't mean for that to sound like an accusation. Tom Keneally isn't Jewish and he wrote "Schindlers List" which was powerful storytelling.  I was just saying she is a non-Jewish writer as a description. I admire what she has tried to do with the book, with much promotional book tour gusto worldwide. She is a natural at PR."

    I added: "Before I started writing  my press releases and opeds about the book in September 2018 I tried to contact Heather via her Facebook page. I know she read my messages because Facebook marked them as 'seen by Heather Morris.'But she never replied to me or answered me even though I identified myself as a journalist.''

    I added: "I also contacted her editor Angela Meyer in September at the same time at her Twitter feed and she replied to her Twitter pals in Australia that I was an anti-semite! Me? I wrote her back and said I was a Jewish guy from Boston, a veteran reporter in his 70s, and hardly an antisemite. She apologized to me and said she was sorry. Then she told me and her Australian Twitter pals publicly on Twitter that she said would have no more contact with me and then she 'blocked' me.''

    ''That's no way to treat a person with some honest and sincere questions about the novel she edited. Even the UK publisher refused to reply to my emails and tweets, not even the media relations PR person. So, given the way they were treating me, I began to smell something fishy. What was there to hide? So I began digging deeper and alerted the new York Times bureau and asked them ask one of their reporters to look into all this. They did. The New York Times article appeared on Novemer 8 and Caroline Overington did a follow-up for the Murdoch newspaper The Australian."

    There will be be many more newspaper articles about all this.

    So do novels about the Holocaust have to be vetted, fact-checked and well-edited? The answer is yes, a hundred times yes.

    This whole thing should be a learning curve for everyone involved including Morris and Meyer.

    Sunday, November 25, 2018

    Veracity of "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" memoir challenged by Auschwitz Museum in Poland in a series of tweets

    A bestselling novel about the Holocaust has generated a strong backlash from readers around the world, and most importantly, from the Auschwitz Museum in Poland, which maintains an internet and Twitter presence online.

    After many people, Jewish and non-Jewish, sent in messages to the museum concerning the veracity and controversy over Heather Morris' million-copy bestseller marketed as a sexed-up ''romance novel/memoir'' titled ''The Tattooist Of Auschwitz,'' the online webmaster of the museum's website felt compelled to issue this notice (and warning) to readers around the world:

    ''Due to the number of factual errors in the novel, "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" cannot be recommended as a valuable position for those who wish to understand the history of the Nazi concentration camp. While the novel is a one non-Jewish Australian storyteller's impression about Auschwitz, allegedly inspired by a so-called "true story", as the cover of the book intones, the book itself is almost without any value as a document of what went on in Auschwitz."

    Pretty strong words, and issued publicly on the museum's Twitter feed @AuschwitzMuseum for the entire world to see. Here is some of what the museum added:

    "This novel about Lali Sokolov represents the only surviving account of a Jewish prisoner employed in Auschwitz as a tattooist, and if the story had been documented thoroughly, "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" could have been an extremely valuable source of knowledge. However, it was not documented properly."

    "An example: The Aufnahme work unit where Lali Sokolov worked (the unit is never mentioned in the novel itself) was supervised by SS-Oberscharführer Josef Hustek-Erber not Stefan Baretzki who has no official relations with the Aufhname.''

    ''Another example: The arm tattoo number of Gisela Furman given in the novel (34902) is not correct. This number belonged to a prisoner who was deported on February 11, 1943 from Westerbork. Gisela's number was 4562, as Australian reporter Christine Kenneally recently reported in her New York Times article about the controversial book.''

    ''There are no documents which state that Roma [Gypsy] children were not tattooed in the camp. There are numerous testimonies that indicate that the youngest were tattooed the same way as adults.''
    "Despite the information in the novel, the transport of Lali could not have gone through Ostrava and Pszczyna. We know this because original timetables prepared by Slovak railways and Reichsbahn show us the exact route."

    "There are no sources that say about a bus that was turned into a gas chamber. The gas-vans were used in Kulmhof extermination center.

    "The sexual contacts between SS-Obersturmführer Johann Schwarzhuberem and a Jewish prisoner named Cilka is highly doubtful not only because of the very serious treatment of Rassenshade crime among the SS."

    "Heather Morris, the author of the novel, mentioned in her story a building and the room where those sexual contacts took place and shows the building on a map in the book (Lali's camp lover Gita and her friend Cilka were supposed to work there from the winter of 1943). However this building was never completed."

    "The description in the novel of two crematoria blown up during the Sonderkommando revolt has nothing to do with the actual event during which one of the crematoria buildings (number IV) was burnt down by the prisoners."

    The museum concluded with a short tweet: "Soon we are going to publish a long historical factchecking review of the novel on our website and here on our Twitter feed. Stay tuned."