Herman Rosenblat stood in a casual button-down shirt and slacks in his North Miami-Dade condominium Tuesday and said he never meant any harm.
He had only meant to spread love, as his father once asked him to do.
"Before he died of typhus, he called me to his bedside and said, 'Son, if you ever get out of this war, don't carry a grudge in your heart and tolerate everybody,' '' Rosenblat recalled through the condo's screen door, one of hundreds of units in the aging, eight-story, beige and green building.
Except, in the end, Rosenblat's goal in life led to years of telling a lie.
For more than a decade, Rosenblat and his wife, Roma, were lauded for their tale of love found during the horror of the Holocaust. He was a boy in a concentration camp; she was a girl who tossed him apples over the camp's fence.
Last weekend, Rosenblat admitted that while he had been imprisoned in concentration camps, the tale of the little girl was a lie.
The revelation left some feeling betrayed while others stood by Rosenblat, saying his story remained powerful even if it wasn't true.
Meanwhile, the Lerner Publishing Group on Tuesday announced it would recall an already-published children's book based on Rosenblat's story.
A few months ago, Lerner released Angel Girl, written by Laurie Friedman, a Coral Gables children's author, and illustrated by Israeli artist Ofra Amit.
Angel Girl‚ will no longer be offered for sale, and Lerner will issue refunds on returned copies.
"Throughout the development of this book, the Rosenblats reviewed my manuscript and assured me of the authenticity of the details of their story,'' Friedman said in a statement. "Unfortunately, I, like many others, am disappointed and upset to now learn of Herman's fabrications.''
Rosenblat's sister-in-law, Jutta Rosenblat, 85, was quoted in Tuesday's New York Post as saying that her late husband, Sam, knew about the lie and was so angry about the hoax that he refused to talk to his brother, even on his deathbed.
"He knew the truth and it ate him up,'' Jutta told The Post.
Herman and Roma Rosenblat had told the world that during the winter of 1944-45, young Roma would toss apples over the fence of the concentration camp where he was imprisoned. Decades later, they claimed, the couple found each other again on a blind date in New York, and got married.
It was true that Herman Rosenblat was in a concentration camp during World War II, but the story of his future wife tossing him apples was false.
Over the years, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Herman Rosenblat twice. He spoke at book and Holocaust-education events. He even had a book deal of his own, for a work to be published by Berkley Books in February called Angel at the Fence.
That book deal has been canceled.
Asked Tuesday why he told such a story, Rosenblat showed an e-mail he received from a woman in Irvine, Calif. Its writer, Toni Robyn Schwartz, said she still thanked for him telling his story even if she had been disappointed to hear that part of it was untrue.
Seeing the couple years ago on Winfrey's show gave her hope, Schwartz, 46, told The Miami Herald. Just seeing the deep love between the couple moved Schwartz at the time, she said, and it still does.
"It wasn't only because I believed they met in the camp, but if you see the way they looked at each other, you can't fake that,'' said Schwartz. "You just can't.''
A movie based on the story is still on track to start filming in the spring, said the production company's president, Harris Salomon. A book also could be published as a novelization of the screenplay, he told The Herald.
"If the public wants to call it a piece of fiction, that's up to the public,'' Salomon said. "If they want to see it as something Herman Rosenblat believed, that's fine as well.''
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