Surviving With Wolves But Suing With Lawyers: Holocaust Book Author Admits Story Is False And Must Pay Publisher $22.5 Million

Misha-memoir-cover-1US-based Belgian writer Misha Defonseca became an international celebrity after publishing her best seller novel, “Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years” — the incredible story of how a Jewish girl was cared for by a pack of wolves after running off into the forest to escape an abusive household. In 2008, Defonseca admitted that the story was made up, her real name was Monique de Wael, and she was never Jewish. The case is Mt. Ivy Press v. Defonseca, 85 Mass. App. Ct. 241, *; 2014 Mass. App. LEXIS 42.

Notably, Defonseca’s parents — Robert De Wael and Josephine Donvil — were taken away by Nazis. However they were not taken away because they were Jewish but because they were Catholic members of the Belgian Resistance. I would think that that would have been a source of great pride by a daughter, but she proceeded to change their identity and her own.

Defonseca was born Monique de Wael in 1937 in Etterbeek, Belgium. Her parents were arrested by the Nazis on September 23, 1941 and Robert de Wael was executed on May 3 or 4 of 1944, Donvil died sometime in 1945. Defonseca eventually moved to Massachusetts under the name of “Misha Defonseca” and began telling her false story about her life as a Jewish girl during the Holocaust at local synagogues.

The story details how Misha was eight when her parents were taken away but her parents put the Jewish girl in the car of a Roman Catholic family and gave her the name of “Monique de Wael.” The family then treats her badly and she runs away. She steals food and clothing and ends up starving in the forest when a pack of wolves rescues her. The book details how she walked over 1,900 miles through Europe, from Belgium to the Ukraine to the Balkins to Germany to Poland. She describes living on worms and offal and even sneaking into the Warsaw Ghetto. She even said that she stabbed to death a Nazi soldier who tried to rape her.

Jane Daniel of Mt. Ivy Press heard the story and signed her to a book deal. Daniel’s friend, Vera Lee, became her co-author. The book was published in 1997. However, Defonseca and Lee soured on the book company and accused it of failing to properly market the book and withholding royalties. They sued Daniel and, in 2001 a jury awarded Defonseca and Lee over $10 million; a judge’s decision later tripled the amount to over $32 million; Daniel was ordered to pay Defonseca $22.5 million and Lee $11 million. The rights to the book were also awarded to Defonseca. The book became a best seller in France and French film rights were sold to French Jewish filmmaker Véra Belmont and the resulting movie, Survivre avec des loups, opened in Belgium in late 2007.

I would be interested to know if Defonseca falsely testified in deposition or court that the story was true and, if so, why there was no perjury investigation based on such testimony.

After the verdict, Daniel continued earlier efforts to check the veracity of the book. She said that she had made inquiries before and some came back supportive and others came back not supportive. However, the growth of the Internet proved a technological breakthrough in the search. Daniel was clearly obsessed with the case after losing the rights and the money. She combed through the papers of her former legal team and found an overlooked bank record. That document given by Defonseca to the bank contained her date of birth, place of birth, and her mother’s maiden name. Daniel used the information to seek Defonseca’s official records in Belgium with the help of a genealogist in Belgium who investigated Catholic baptismal records in Etterbeek. They found the baptismal record of one Monica Ernestine Josephine De Wael, born May 12, 1937, in Etterbeek, Belgium, to Robert Henri Ernest De Wael and Josephine Donvil.

She went back to court but the trial judge was still unsympathetic given the poor conduct of Daniel and the company:

“[The conduct of Daniel and Mt. Ivy] is not made any less egregious because of what we now know. . . . Whether Defonseca should profit from or be punished for her bad conduct is not the question for this court. The only question is whether Defonseca’s bad conduct should absolve [Daniel and Mt. Ivy] from their own bad conduct six years after entry of judgment. It bears noting that it is not, as claimed by [Daniel and Mt. Ivy] Defonseca’s conduct that caused harm to [them]. It was their own conduct that not only caused a jury to find against them across the board, but caused a Superior Court judge to find their conduct so egregious that it warranted treble damages and attorneys’ fees.”

However, the appellate court reversed and ordered Defonseca repay $22.5 million to her publisher. The appellate court notes that Daniel is hardly a redeeming character herself: “Throughout the publication process, Mt. Ivy and its principal, Jane Daniel, engaged in many highly improper representations and activities which need not be detailed here.” and noted that the book contract between Defonseca and Mt. Ivy expressly stated that “The Author [Defonseca] represents and warrants . . . that . . . with respect to the Work as submitted by the Author, . . . (vii) all statements of fact are true or based upon reasonable belief.”

The appellate court came to a Solomonesque result:

“This case has had a legal life of over fifteen years. All involved have been bloodied. Defonseca’s story has been shown to be false. As for Daniel, she also has been shown to have acted highly inappropriately, as evidenced by the still valid multi-million dollar judgment against her in favor of Vera Lee, the one least blameworthy person in the entire affair. Hopefully the saga has now come to an end.”

Indeed, it is a saga worthy of a book.

Source: Yahoo

20 thoughts on “Surviving With Wolves But Suing With Lawyers: Holocaust Book Author Admits Story Is False And Must Pay Publisher $22.5 Million

  1. In the outlaw criminal world the maxim, “When you steal from a thief they can’t call the cops” almost always holds true. in the literary world, both thieves lawyer up and litigate.

  2. One would think the “raised by wolves” claim would have been a warning sign that she was not being truthful. Did she claim she was a descendant of Romulus and Remus?

  3. Any one who follows the lawsuits surrounding the music publishing business would not be surprised by this. There has been a certain amount of ‘fraud’ going in publications all the time. For example, autobiographies are rarely a reliable source about someone. In the girl’s defense, there is a point where she may have lived the lie enough to start believing it.

  4. Darren Smith

    One would think the “raised by wolves” claim would have been a warning sign that she was not being truthful. Did she claim she was a descendant of Romulus and Remus?
    =========================
    Indeed … just a smidgen of investigation would have sufficed.

    Living in the forests of The Seven Hills suckling the teets of the Wolferatti has got to be home made shit …

  5. The article is a bit vague. I do not see who was hurt by the false statements in the book which is just a novel. I always thought that Mark Twain was really Huck. Or Jim.

  6. Al – I went to Hannibal, MO last summer and traveled to many of the places mentioned in both Twain’s books. The cave is there to be visited and you should. Had a great time in Hannibal. It was a trip back to my boyhood.

  7. US-based Belgian writer Misha Defonseca became an international celebrity after publishing her best seller novel, “Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years” – JT

    A novel is a long narrative that is normally in prose, which describes fictional characters and events, usually in the form of a sequential story.” -Wikipedia

    The book Misha is not a novel, it is a memoir.

    Memoir (from French: mémoire: memoria, meaning memory or reminiscence), is a literary nonfiction genre.” – Wikipedia

    Thus the litigation.

  8. Here is an example of a non-fiction book (not a novel) about wolves:

    Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s book on meeting NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the information he revealed to him on top secret massive surveillance and its implications on privacy has been released today.

    Along with the release of the book, Greenwald has posted new documents referenced in the book online for people to read for free.

    Here are some of the highlights from the newly released documents:

    —The NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) will “intercept” shipments of computer network devices and install “beacon implants” in the “targets’ electronic devices.” The devices are repackaged and “placed back into transit.”

    “Supply-chain interdiction” is described as “some of the most productive operations in TAO, because they pre-position access points into hard target networks around the world.” And in one instance a beacon was “implanted through supply-chain interdiction” and “called back to the NSA covert infrastructure.” The “call back” provided the NSA “access to further exploit the device and survey the network.”

    (No Place to Hide).

  9. […] they were not taken away because they were Jewish but because they were Catholic members of the Belgian Resistance. I would think that that would have been a source of great pride by a daughter, […]

    In fact, after the WWII, her parents were deemed to be traitors to Belgium for, in exchange of the life of their girl, helping the Nazis to attempting to destroy their former resistence network, and even assisting to torture sessions against their comrades.

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