Misha Defonseca

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

  Misha Defonseca 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 (Surviving with Wolves) that was published in 1997 by the Éditions Robert Laffont; this second version was adapted into the French film of the same name.

 On 29 February 2008, the author as well as her lawyers admitted that the bestselling book was fictional, despite it having been presented as autobiographical. In 2014 a court ordered Defonseca to repay her publisher $22 million




Defonseca was born Monique de Wael, the daughter of Catholic parents who were arrested, deported, and murdered by the Nazis for being resistance members. After her parents' arrest, Monique was sent to live with her grandparents, then her uncle. In the local community, she was known as the "daughter of the traitor," as her father was accused of disclosing secrets to the Nazis during his imprisonment. After being liberated, her father's name was erased from the stone plaque in honour of the local Nazi-victim employees on the walls of the Schaerbeek municipality.

 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. Defonseca began to fantasize a vivid story about her childhood, including having wandered 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 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 the book's popularity, many critics 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 these findings. Finally the leading historian of the Shoah in Belgium, the late Dr. Maxime Steinberg, pointed out the story's historical anomalies and errors.

 On 29 February 2008, Defonseca admitted to Le Soir that she had fabricated the tale, after she had 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."


Sign up via our free email subscription service to receive notifications when new information is available.