Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fragments by Binjamin Wilkormski

I'm currently teaching a writing class on 'Writing Our Lives' and am reading through some memoirs to share with the class to give them an idea of the variety in this type of writing.

Fragments is an astonishing, powerful memoir about Binjamin Wilkormski's childhood in concentration camps and orphanages. It is never an easy read, but it is totally compelling.

If like me you have read a lot of books and watched a lot of films set during the Holocaust, you may think you are prepared for the horrors that lie in a book like this. I think though that this book gives more insights into the searing horror of the concentration camps than anything else I've read. The effect is particularly poignant because the author was so young at the time and he remembers things from a child's perspective. Things just happen to him and around him and he has no way of understanding or making sense of any of it, let along even hoping to have any control over things. The fragmented memories presented in the book, with memories from the concentration camp mixed up with memories from the orphanage, are incredibly powerful in the overall sense they give of hischildhood.

Most telling is how, when Wilmorski finds himself finally in a safe orphanage in Switzerland, he doesn't trust it and behaves as he would when he was in a concentration camp.


Talking of trust, though, I've just done an internet search to find a link for Binjamin Wilkomirski and apparently Fragments was in 1999 uncovered as a fabrication or more precisely a book based on false memories (It seems that Wilkimorski was actually Swiss, born Bruno Grosjean). I decided not to rewrite this review, the book remains just as powerful in its effect and still has truths to tell us about the Holocaust, and after all many novels have been written on the same topic. Or does the fact that it was fabricated and presented as a truth, now undermine it completely? What do you think?

You may be interested to read Why Would One Pretend to be a Victim of the Holocaust? which examines themes around false memories, with specific reference to Wilkomisrski's book.

As ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks to other webpages where you can find out more.

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