In the Footsteps of Wilcominski

The Lewis Legacy-Issue 81, Summer 1999 The C.S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing

A Jewish holocaust victim’s memoir by a non-Jewish non-victim?In 1995 Binjamin Wilcominski published Fragments, telling the vivid, heartrending story of his early childhood spent in Nazi concentration camps during World War Two. He was born a Jew in Latvia in 1938. After surviving years in prison camps, he arrived in Switzerland in 1948 and grew up as a German-speaking Swiss. But buried memories surfaced, and he wrote the prize-winning bestseller that was soon translated into fourteen languages (including English). It was hailed as a modern classic. After publication Wilcominski found himself a celebrity and lectured widely.

In the afterword to this book, he acknowledged existence of documents giving his birthdate as 1941 rather than 1938, “But this date has nothing to do with this century or my personal history.” That assurance did not deter a Swiss writer named Daniel Ganzfried from doing research and discovering that Wilcominski was born in Switzerland in 1941 to an unmarried Protestant woman and adopted by a well-to-do Swiss couple who named him Bruno Doessekker. Thus he was neither Latvian nor Jewish, and never near a prison camp. He entered school in 1947 at age six, the year before he says he first arrived in Switzerland.

When the news broke in 1998, Wilcominski’s German and English publishers stonewalled. He refused to be interviewed by Newsweek, but issued a disclaimer: “It was always left freely to the readers to regard my book either as literature or as a personal document.”

“He has not the talent of saying what he has to say quickly; nor is he aware that brevity is in writing what charity is to all other virtues. Righteousness is worth nothing without the one, nor authorship without the other.”

Sydney Smith