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Troubling the life narrative: The case of Binjamin Wilkomirski's Fragments: Memories of a childhood, 1939–1948
journal contributionposted on 30.11.2018, 00:00 by Susan Bond
Binjamin Wilkomirski’s Fragments: Memories of a childhood, 1939–1948 was first published in 1995 in Germany, and in English translation in 1996. It purported to be a Holocaust memoir: the author wrote of his experiences as a six year old in concentration camps in Poland. Doubts were raised as to its authenticity, and eventually the memoir was revealed to be a ‘hoax’. Wilkomirski (whose actual name was Bruno Grosjean at birth) had been given up for adoption by his mother, who was poor and the victim of an accident that left her with brain injuries. I argue that the author of Fragments could not find a sense of identity or belonging as an adoptee, but did as a Holocaust survivor, and through a long and complex process he came to produce a narrative that explained his life as he saw it. I discuss the case in detail to build a picture of Wilkomirski as an adopted person rather than a literary hoaxer, and utilise the work of Betty Jean Lifton, who postulated that the damage done to him in childhood reverberated through the years into his adult life. A discussion of trauma (and trauma theories), as it relates to adopted persons and their life narratives, and the Divided Self theory adapted by Betty Jean Lifton and Jo Sparrow, are employed in providing a reading of Fragments as a troubled adoptee memoir, one that is embedded within the ‘false’ or ‘hoax’ memoir of Holocaust survival.