In This Review

A Life in Pieces: The Making and Unmaking of Binjamin Wilkomirski
A Life in Pieces: The Making and Unmaking of Binjamin Wilkomirski
By Blake Eskin
W. W. Norton, 2002, 251 pp.

Published in 1995, Wilkomirski's Holocaust memoir, Fragments, was a harrowing tale of suffering that received many prizes and made its author famous. Eskin and his family -- whose original last name was Wilbur, an abbreviation of Wilkomirski -- wanted to meet this man, whom they thought might be a relative and a connection to their kin in the Baltic states. That hope, however, soon led to another quest: a vast and furiously contentious investigation into the truth about Wilkomirski. After the publication of Fragments, Holocaust survivors and historians announced that they found his story inaccurate and unbelievable, and Wilkomirski's own statements proved evasive. Wilkomirski's defenders (including Eskin's mother) were equally passionate and indignant. Eskin's own research gradually convinced him that the book was fraudulent; its author was actually a Christian boy born in Switzerland, where he lived throughout the war.

Eskin writes that Wilkomirski could have rescued himself by arguing that he had written a work of fiction based on the tragic accounts of children whose parents were killed by the Nazis. Instead, he never ceased to assert that his was a true story, even though his book ended up being withdrawn and its prizes cancelled. Through this story, Eskin portrays a bitter and disturbing side of the Holocaust's aftermath -- the world of the exploiters who manipulate the emotions and passions stirred up as the past is revisited.