Misha Defonseca: Author who made up Holocaust memoir ordered to repay £13.3m
Misha Defonseca claimed she killed a Nazi soldier and lived with wolves
Monday 12 May 2014
The author of a bestselling Holocaust memoir has been ordered to pay back £13.3 million ($22.5 million) after she admitted much of her sensational story was pure fantasy.
Misha Defonseca, a Belgian writer now living in Massachusetts, claimed she was adopted by a pack of wolves and killed a Nazi soldier to survive after her Jewish parents were taken during the Second World War.
But it emerged that she was not Jewish, as claimed, her real name was Monica Ernestine Josephine De Wael and her tale of four years wandering through forests to escape the Holocaust was untrue.
Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years was published in 1997 and was translated into 18 languages and made into a French film called Survivre Avec Les Loups before Defonseca, 76, admitted that much of it was a lie.
The book, which is still on sale on Amazon for up to £15, took her around the world telling her story to Jewish groups and at Holocaust memorial events.
Its success led to a copyright case brought by Defonseca and her ghostwriter, Vera Lee, against publishers Mt. Ivy Press and they won millions in damages for unpaid royalties and wages in 2002.
But the loss led Jane Daniel, the head of the publishing company, to search for evidence of fraud in the story, which many had already doubted.
It unravelled when documents in Belgium revealed Defonseca was born under a different name and registered as a student at a school in Brussels in 1943, when she was supposedly in the midst of a journey across Nazi-controlled Europe.
“This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving,” she said in a statement to Associated Press in 2008.
“I ask forgiveness to all who felt betrayed. I beg you to put yourself in my place, of a four-year-old girl who was very lost.”
Although her parents were captured by Nazi soldiers, they were not Jews but Catholic and suspected members of the Belgian resistance.
They were taken in 1941, when Defonseca was four, not seven as in her memoir, and she went to live with her uncle’s family.
Both of her real-life parents were dead by 1945 but the similarities were not enough to outweigh the differences in court.
The publishers of the book moved to have the judgement against them reversed and in 2010 the Massachusetts Court of Appeals decided they had a case.
Although Defonseca argued she believed the story was true while the book was being written, judges found the false account “tainted” the trial that awarded her damages.
Court papers said the initial judge and jury believed it was a “heart-rending story of Holocaust survival”.
In the final judgement on 29 April, Judge Marc Kantrowitz wrote: “Here, we express no opinion as to whether Defonseca's belief in the veracity of her story was reasonable.”
According to the Courthouse News Service, he continued: “However, we agree with the second motion judge that, whether Defonseca's belief was reasonable or not, the introduction in evidence of the actual facts of her history at the trial underlying Mt. Ivy I could have made a significant difference in the jury's deliberations.”
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Michelle Watt's father says TV presenter killed herself because she was in constant pain
- 2 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 3 'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
- 4 North Korean defector flees to Finland 'with evidence of chemical testing on humans'
- 5 Greek debt crisis: The photograph that conveys the despair of Greece's elderly
Bad luck, One Direction: Paul McCartney doubts success of The Beatles will ever be matched again
This is surely the best way to watch Jaws
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
Guillaume Tell's gang-rape scene caused uproar at the Royal Opera House – but the portrayal of extreme sex and violence on stage is nothing new
The last decade has produced just four UK festival headline acts
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture