Court Rules Fake Holocaust Survivor Must Return $22.5 Million From Book ‘Misha’ About Fabricated Tale
Misha Defonseca, 76, lost an appeal in a Massachusetts court and must forfeit the $22.5 million judgement she won from the publishers of her 1997 memoir, ‘Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years,’ because it was later shown to be a complete forgery, the UK’s Daily Mailreported on Monday.
In 1998, Defonseca and ghostwriter Vera Lee won a $32.4 million judgement from publisher Jane Daniel and Mt Ivy Press in a copyright registration claim that found Daniel to have conducted “highly improper representations and activities,” the Daily Mail reported.
Daniel appealed, but in 2005 the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the judgement. But during the appeal process, inconsistencies in Defonseca’s outlandish tale began to attract the suspicion of Daniel, journalists, and forensic genealogists, the Massachusetts Courthouse News Service reported.
In the book, Defonseca wrote that, between the ages of seven and 11, she trekked 1,900 miles across Europe in search of her parents, spent months living in the forest with a pack of wolves, hiding from Nazis and in one encounter, stabbed a Nazi rapist to death, the Daily Mail said.
Daniel eventually located a document that included Defonseca’s maiden name – which in the book was Levy – and her date and place of birth. Her real name, Daniel found, was Monica Ernestine Josephine De Wael, and she was not Jewish. During the years in question, Defonseca was actually enrolled in a Brussels school, never in the woods on the run.
Defonseca, now living in Massachusetts, has since admitted that her best-selling book was an elaborate fantasy, even as it was translated into 18 languages and made into a feature film in France.
“This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving,” Defonseca said in a statement from her lawyers to the Associated Press.
Defonseca said that her parents were arrested when she was four and she was taken care of by her grandfather and uncle, who treated her poorly, and called her a “daughter of a traitor” because of her parents’ role in the resistance, which she said led her to “feel Jewish.”
She said there were moments when she “found it difficult to differentiate between what was real and what was part of my imagination.”
The saga began after Daniel heard Defonseca tell “her” story in a local synagogue, after which she commissioned her to write the book which became a global best-seller.
In 2012, the Massachusetts Superior Court found that Defonseca had committed a fraud and set aside the verdict. She appealed and, on April 29, Judge Marc Kantrowitz, in what he described as “the third, and hopefully the last” opinion on the matter, agreed that the truth of Defonseca’s story would have made a difference to the jury’s deliberations.
Kantrowitz said that Defonseca and Daniel had both acted “highly inappropriately,” and expressed the Court’s hope that “the saga has now come to an end,” Mondaq reported.