Should fiction be wrong?

3 03 2008

In amongst the past few days there has been some real gems of stories, which usually would warrant a mention from myself. These include Cameron’s plans for more prisons and better sentencing, a new Russian president, and the news that 1 million homes in the countryside are below the poverty line.

But I found a story which stood out just that bit more. It was this one, about a woman who fictionalised a tale of the holocaust. Having read the article, I was left wondering if such accounts of the experiences serve only to trivialise the whole thing. Now I know that wasn’t her aim, and am willing to believe that the story was her way of dealing with the holocaust, but to me it seems a bit wrong.

I am more than willing to listen to people talking about their actual experiences from the period, and having read Primo Levi’s accounts of Auschwitz I find them thoroughly harrowing. I admit that I have a book by Laurence Rees on my bookshelf gathering dust on Auschwitz, and will read that when I have the time. I am genuinely interested in finding out more about the holocaust, and how people reacted to it.

But this work by Misha Delfonseca (or to give her her real name, Monique De Wael) seems to me to be little more than money making out of the whole thing. In the same way that World Trade Centre starring good old Nic Cage was making money out of the ordeal.  De Wael did indeed have parents who were deported by the Nazis, and from my point of view, it would have been far more interesting to here a story about them than some fictionalised account of a young girl accompanied by wolves across Germany. Her story has been made into a film, and she, undoubtedly is earning the royalties from it.

I think this is a bit wrong. I do not have a problem with people discussing the holocaust from experience, or indeed selling memoirs of the experience. Likewise I do not have a problem with historians writing books which try to explain or understand what went on. These have an agenda. They know why they are being written and have a goal in mind. Historians seek to understand the holocaust (something I fear will never be possible), survivors want people to understand so the same things cannot happen again. Personalising the experience is a powerful thing.

Yet I see neither agenda here. Ok, so her (non-jewish) parents were deported by the Nazis to a camp having been part of the resistance in France. But I get the impression that isn’t what the book is really about. The process of writing it was to create a good story, one that would sell. Emotive works about the holocaust sell well, and so I can understand the logic in writing a book with its heart based around the holocaust. And then trivialise it by adding wolves to the story as accompanying actors.

This is along a similar line to Seb Faulks’ Birdsong, or Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Both are tools of making money out of something hugely terrible. And yet, to me, there is something much worse about trivialising the holocaust. And now I here people thinking about Schindler’s List, Spielberg’s well renowned film. To me, the same logic would apply, but I have one lingering thought. Having not actually seen the film, I cannot be certain, but I highly doubt that the supporting ensemble was made of wolves. The film, I’m sure, did not trivialise the experience by adding the unrealistic tones of childs fantasy to make it more dramatic.

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