The Auschwitz-Birkenau Holocaust memorial museum has said that John Boyne’s children’s novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas “should be avoided by anyone who studies or teaches the history of the Holocaust”, after the author criticised the spate of recent novels set in the concentration camp.
The museum made the comment after Boyne criticised the current ubiquity of novels with names such as The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Saboteur of Auschwitz, The Librarian of Auschwitz and The Brothers of Auschwitz. Boyne had tweeted: “I can’t help but feel that by constantly using the same three words, & then inserting a noun, publishers & writers are effectively building a genre that sells well, when in reality the subject matter, & their titles, should be treated with a little more thought & consideration.”
The research centre at the former Nazi death camp in Poland responded by saying that “we understand those concerns, and we already addressed inaccuracies in some books published”: the organisation has laid out at length the issues it has with Heather Morris’s bestselling novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which it has said “contains numerous errors and information inconsistent with the facts, as well as exaggerations, misinterpretations and understatements”.
Related: The Tattooist of Auschwitz attacked as inauthentic by camp memorial centre
But the memorial went on to link to an essay warning readers away from Boyne’s story of a German boy who befriends a Jewish boy on the other side of the Auschwitz fence.
The critical essay, which is from the Holocaust exhibition and learning centre, says that many people who have read the book or watched the film adaptation of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas believe that it is a true story – despite its subtitle, “A Fable”. It stresses that “it is important to understand that the book is a work of fiction” and “the events portrayed could never have happened”. It goes on to lay out “some of the book’s historical inaccuracies and stereotypical portrayals of major characters that help to perpetuate dangerous myths about the Holocaust”.
In response, Boyne queried what he said were factual inaccuracies in the piece: “While I absolutely respect your right to recommend some books & to discourage the reading of others, it’s worth pointing out that the opening paragraph of the attached article contains 3 factual inaccuracies in only 57 words. Which is why I didn’t read on,” he wrote on Twitter to a chorus of growing criticism, adding that he believes that he “treated the subject matter with great care in my novel, although readers are of course free to feel differently”.
“All I said was that the Auschwitz Museum was linking to an article – not an article that THEY had published or written – that addressed supposed inaccuracies in my novel which, of course, was a work of fiction … and therefore by its nature cannot contain inaccuracies, only anachronisms, and I don’t think there are any of those in there,” Boyne told the Guardian on Tuesday.
The Irish author has previously been the subject of online criticism over his novel My Brother’s Name Is Jessica. “I may not always get it right, no one does, but I’d rather give it my best shot every time than be someone who gets their kicks by tearing strangers down through phone & thumb and then walking away with a smug smile thinking, ‘I told him,” he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “The ‘new dictators’ try to define discourse, control literature & instigate online attacks. Perhaps they feel voiceless but screaming like jackals rather than talking like humans isn’t helpful. After 20 years of publishing novels, I know that real writers write from the gut, regardless of the abuse that comes their way.”