Lynda La Plante is prime suspect in memoir row

Australian reader notices 'similarities' between one of the thriller writer's novels and a harrowing account of Auschwitz from a Holocaust survivor
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The Independent Culture

Lynda La Plante has murdered people in a thousand brutal ways, on the page at least. But the author of many best-selling crime novels and hit television series now faces criticism from Holocaust survivors over a novel she published in 1993 and its alleged similarities in part to a memoir by an Auschwitz survivor, according to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald.

La Plante, best known for creating the ITV series Prime Suspect, strongly denies copying from the 1947 book Five Chimneys by Olga Lengyel.

While an inmate at the Auschwitz death camp, Lengyel was forced to work as a medical aide to the notorious Nazi war criminal Dr Josef Mengele. He conducted experiments on sick prisoners, including injecting them with unknown fluids and carrying out tests on their reproductive organs. Lengyel risked her life to collect details of conditions in the camp, which were published in her memoirs after the war.

An Australian reader noticed that parts of the survivor's memoir were very similar to La Plante's 1993 novel Entwined. Its main characters are Auschwitz survivors. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that lawyers for La Plante had said a research assistant she no longer uses may have used the passages on her behalf.

Yesterday The Independent on Sunday was told by a lawyer for Olswang Solicitors, on behalf of the author: "Lynda La Plante has not read Five Chimneys. She did use a research assistant in this case but not in other books." La Plante is due in Australia next month for a publicity tour, and may face questions there from Holocaust survivors concerned about the similarities.

There was anger yesterday from British survivors who feared that, in the future, accounts of the death camps could be hijacked. "Holocaust survivors are extremely concerned that their testimony will be taken out of context, used, abused and manipulated for purposes that they have no knowledge of," said Stephen Smith of the Holocaust Centre.

"This is potentially an example of how easy it could be to use testimony purely because of its moral power, without taking into consideration the feelings of those who survived the horror of the Holocaust. Authors need to remember that the Holocaust is not their friend and that they should not treat it lightly, but approach it with the greatest of care."


What conception could Dr Mengele have had of the medical work he did in the camp? His experiments, lacking scientific value, were no more than foolish playing, and all his activities were full of contradictions. I saw him take every precaution during an accouchement, watching to see that all aseptic principles were rigorously observed and that the umbilical cord was cut with care. Half an hour later he sent the mother and child to the crematory oven.


Whatever concept lay behind Mengele's work in the camp, his experiments lacked any scientific value, all his actions full of contradictions. He would take every precaution during a childbirth, noting and observing that all aseptic principles were rigorously observed and that the umbilical cord was cut with care. Half an hour later mother and new-born infant would be sent to the gas chambers.