Remembering Another False “Memory”: The Rosenblats, Oprah, and the Holocaust Love Story

Herman and Roma

Herman and Roma

Somehow I missed this story, because if I had noticed it, I know I would have written about it. Maybe you missed it too.

Herman Rosenblat died on Feb. 5, and his death was noted in several publications, not for his life, which included surviving the Holocaust, but because of a charming story he told that turned out to false. He had written in a memoir about a mysterious young girl on the other side of the barbed wire fence who help kept him alive as a starving teenage inmate at Buchenwald. As recounted in another book:

“He saw her pull something from her pocket. An apple? She squinted, gauging the distance between them, swung her arm in a few practice throws, then hurled the apple with a force that surprised him. The fruit flew across most of the distance between them before it dropped to the ground, rolled under the fence and landed just inches beyond the wire on Herman’s side.”

Day after day, the same mysterious “angel,” as he thought of her, risked her life by throwing apples to him over the fence.

Twelve years after the war, he had a blind date in Coney Island. His date told him about her experiences in Europe during the war, and how she wondered what had become of a young boy she remembered throwing apples to in a German death camp.  Stunned, Herman said that he asked, “Did he wear rags on his feet instead of shoes?”  When she answered that he did, Herman exclaimed, ‘That boy was me!” They were married, and it was a loving union that lasted 56 years. Continue reading

Phony Online Lesbian Ethics

Lesbian blogger Paula Brooks

When the media and internet were buzzing about the shocking discovery that the celebrated blogger “A Gay Girl in Damascus” was really “A Straight American Man in Scotland” who had fooled all his readers and followers through the lie-machine called the Internet, one of those who expressed shock and criticism of the hoax was Paula Brooks, the deaf lesbian editor of the popular lesbian news blog, Lez Get Real. When a man who said he was Brooks’ father told Washington Post reporters who called to interview the blogger that they could only speak to her through him because of her hearing disability, the reporters did some checking. Son of a gun: Paula’s “father” was really Paula, who was really Bill Graber, a straight, married, former construction worker.

Observations: Continue reading

Fake or Real, “I’m Still Here” is Unethical

Now, having had his film reviewed by most major critics as a genuine documentary and being widely assailed as an exploitive creep (including here), Casey Affleck is telling the media that the film is a put-on. If it is (and why anyone should believe a liar when he admits he is lying is an unanswerable question), then he exploited the audience and defrauded them into seeing a film under false pretenses. The movie isn’t funny, like “Borat,” and there is no legitimate entertainment purpose in staging a fake portrayal of a drugged out,  self-absorbed jerk, who is really only a lying, self-absorbed jerk. Just as James Frey’s  A Thousand Little Pieces was a lousy novel that attracted interest because he falsely represented it as non-fiction, “I’m Still Here” only could attract an audience if they were lied to—because nobody would care about Juaquin Phoenix’s idea of satire. Andy Kauffman he’s not. They will, however, pay to watch a human train wreck. Is Affleck trying to make the audience feel foolish? They are only foolish for trusting him. They won’t do it again.

I still think it’s 50-50 whether the hoax admission is another hoax, as a desperate effort to gin up box office. But it really doesn’t matter. Whether the film is truth or fabrication, Phoenix and his pal Affleck are despicable…just for different reasons.

Oprah and the Icons: the Ethics of Lying to Make a Difference

Kitty Kelley’s unauthorized, rip-the-mask-off-the-icon bio is out, and now Oprah Winfrey must weather the inevitable de-construction of some of her meticulously self-created image. Oprah is pretty much untouchable now; I was a guest at her “O” Magazine Expo last Fall in Kansas City, and it was clear that her status with he legion of followers is somewhere between a guru and a goddess. There aren’t many revelations, short of proving that she is secretly Dick Cheney in an elaborate disguise, that could do much to reduce her cultural influence or undo her popularity.

Still, it used to be that heroes, celebrities and cultural icons could count on the whole truth about their personal and career embellishments to surface only late in life, or more often, long after death. Thus it has been a standard tool of rising figures in America to carefully craft an inspiring story and an appealing persona that excite and engage the public, and the truth has had little to do with it. It’s worked, too. Continue reading

The 2009 Ethics Alarms Awards, Part 2: The Best

The Best in Ethics of 2009. May the 2010 list be longer!

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year: President Barack Obama’s executive order banning torture. The Declaration of Independence already did it once, but the President was right: we needed some reminding.

Ethical Leadership: Howard County, MD, which launched a “Choose Civility” campaign based on the book Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct, by Johns Hopkins University Professor Dr. P.M. Forni. The effort attracted national attention, and has sparked similar movements around the country. Continue reading