Monique de Wael
12 May 1937
Etterbeek, Brussels, Belgium
|Known for||Writing a fictitious Holocaust memoir|
Misha Defonseca (born Monique de Wael; 12 May 1937 in Etterbeek) is a Belgian-born writer and the author of a fictitious Holocaust memoir titled Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, first published in 1997 and at that time professed to be a true memoir. It became an instant success in Europe and was translated into 18 languages. The French version of the book was a derivative work based on the original with the title Survivre avec les loups that was published in 1997 by the Éditions Robert Laffont; this second version was adapted into the French film Survivre avec les loups (Surviving with Wolves).
On 29 February 2008, the author as well as her lawyers admitted that the bestselling book was a lie, and was not based on true events, despite it having been presented as autobiographical. In 2014 a court ordered Defonseca to repay her publisher $22 million.
Monique De Wael was four when her parents were arrested by the Nazis on September 23, 1941, for resistance to the occupier. According to sources, Robert De Wael, her father, a municipal employee in Schaerbeek, would have accepted the deal proposed by the Nazis: in order to be able to see his daughter Monique De Wael, he had to deliver the names of the members of his group. He even took part in interrogations of his fellow soldiers and thus helped dismantle the "Grenadiers Group", the resistance network he had founded in November 1940. He was then sent to Cologne and imprisoned in various places before being transferred to Sonnenburg on the German-Polish border where he died of exhaustion. Joséphine Donvil, his wife, was also transported from prison to prison before being deported to Ravensbruck where she died in February 1945
After the liberation, her father's name was erased from the stone plaque in honor of the local Nazi-victim employees on the walls of the Schaerbeek municipality. After her parents' arrest, little Monique was sent to live with her grandparents, then her uncle. In the local community, she was known as the "daughter of the traitor".
Defonseca and her husband, Maurice, moved to the United States from Paris in 1988 and bought a house in Millis, Massachusetts. He was unemployed by the mid-1990s. Misha began to fantasize a vivid story about her childhood; suggesting to have wandering across Europe at the age of six after her parents were deported in 1941, being sheltered by friendly packs of wolves, killing a German soldier in self-defence, sneaking into and out of the Warsaw Ghetto, and finally supposedly finding her way home at the end of the war. Jane Daniel, a local book publisher, convinced Defonseca to write a memoir about her alleged past after she heard the writer tell the story in a Massachusetts synagogue. Daniel published Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years in 1997 through her "one woman operation", Mt. Ivy Press.
Prior to the uncovering of the hoax, the book had spawned a multimillion-dollar legal battle between Defonseca and the book's ghostwriter, Vera Lee, against Jane Daniel and her small publishing company, Mt. Ivy Press. Daniel and Defonseca fell out over profits received from the best-selling book, which led to a lawsuit. In 2005, a Boston court ordered Daniel to pay Defonseca and Lee $22.5 million. Defonseca's lawyers said Daniel has not paid the court-ordered sum. Following her admission, a court in 2014 ordered Defonseca to repay the full amount.
Despite its followers, the book also had many critics who pointed to passages that were logically or historically implausible. The first person who publicly doubted the authenticity of the story was Henryk M. Broder, who wrote an article about Defonseca in 1996 for the German newspaper Der Spiegel. In late February 2008, a baptismal certificate from a Brussels church for a Monique De Wael and a register from an elementary school near the De Waels' home that shows Monique enrolled there in September 1943—two years after Misha claimed to have left Brussels—, were posted by Jane Daniel on her blog. Belgian national newspaper Le Soir soon reported on these findings. Finally the leading historian of the Shoah in Belgium, the late Dr. Maxime Steinberg, pointed out the historic anomalies and errors in the story.
On 29 February 2008, Defonseca admitted to Le Soir that she had fabricated the tale, after having been presented with what the paper described as "irrefutable" evidence that her story was false. "The book is a story, it's my story", said the writer in a statement issued under her real name. "It's not the true reality, but it is my reality. There are times when I find it difficult to differentiate between reality and my inner world." Defonseca told Le Soir that she had always wanted to forget her real name because she had been called "the traitor's daughter."
- Herman Rosenblat (Angel at the Fence)
- Martin Grey (Au nom de tous les miens)
- Binjamin Wilkomirski (Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood, 1995)
- Rosemarie Pence (Hannah: From Dachau to the Olympics and Beyond, 2005)
- Enric Marco (Memorias del infierno, 1978)
- Donald J. Watt (Stoker, 1995)
- Denis Avey (The Man who Broke into Auschwitz, 2011)
- James Frey (A Million Little Pieces, 2003)
- Mehegan, David (2008-03-01). "Faked Holocaust memoir: Den of lies". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
- In her blog, Jane Daniel explains the differences between the original English (Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years) and the French edition.
- Waterfield, Bruno (2008-03-01). "'Wolf woman' invents Holocaust survival tale". The Telegraph. Archived from the original (Internet Archive) on 2 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
- "Yet Another Writer Has Admitted Faking Her Holocaust Memoir: The long, strange history of made-up Shoah stories".
- Survivre avec les loups : la véritable histoire de Misha Defonseca, de Lionel Duroy, XO, 2012
- Trujillo, Melissa (2008-02-29). "Writer Admits Holocaust Book Is Not True". Newsday. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
- Lizzie Dearden (2014-03-19). "Misha Defonseca: Author who made up Holocaust memoir ordered to repay £13.3m - News - Books". The Independent. Retrieved 2014-05-12.
- Verliebt in eine tote Kobra, Der Spiegel 50/1996, 09 Dec. 1996
- Eskin, Blake (2008-02-29). "Crying Wolf: Why did it take so long for a far-fetched Holocaust memoir to be debunked?". Slate. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
- Metdepenningen, Marc (23 February 2008). "Le vrai dossier de " Misha "" (in French). Le Soir. Archived from the original on 28 February 2008. Retrieved 1 March 2008.
- Maxime Steinberg: Homepage.
- Bhattacharjee, Yudhiijit (13 March 2008). "A Pack of ... ?". Science. 319: 1467. doi:10.1126/science.319.5869.1467a.
- Shields, Rachel (2008-03-01). "Adopted by wolves? Bestselling memoir was a pack of lies". The Independent. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
- Caleb Daniloff, Untrue Stories, a genealogist reveals the painful truth about three Holocaust memoirs: they're fiction. Bostonia (Alumni Magazine of Boston University)
- Misha Defonseca on her true life (in French)