A woman who wrote a memoir detailing her story of Holocaust survival has been ordered to pay her publisher back $22.5 million after it came to light that she made the entire thing up. Misha Defonseca, now 76, isn't even Jewish.
Defonseca's 1997 best-seller Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years was found to be a fraud after she and ghostwriter Vera Lee sued Mt. Ivy Press and company founder Jane Daniel for hiding profits. Eventually they won a $32.4 million judgment (of which Defonseca received $22.5 million), but the whole thing led Daniel to discover the truth of her fantastical tale.
Daniel had originally persuaded Defonseca to write the book after hearing her share her stories at a Massachusetts synagogue in the 90s. The memoir recounts the tale of a young girl forced to trek 1,900 miles across Europe in search of her parents, who had been taken by the Nazis. She lived with wolves in the forest, hiding from Hitler's minions, and even stabbed a would-be Nazi rapist to death in one scene.
The book takes place when Misha was aged between seven and 11 years old, which of course only adds to the fantastical nature of it all. It's got everything, right? A scared but intrepid little girl living with wolves, fighting Nazis, and searching for her parents? Wowza.
Of course the whole thing is fake, which the author openly admits now. Even her name was fake. Born Monica Ernestine Josephine De Wael, she spent the majority of World War II enrolled in a Brussels school while living with relatives. Her parents were arrested for their role in the anti-Nazi resistance, and she was sent to live with her grandfather and uncle when she was four.
Defonseca said the experience of being poorly treated by her adoptive family made her "feel Jewish," and rationalized, "This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving."
Because that's like totally the same thing as living with wolves and stabbing Nazis. Insert eye roll here.
Anyway, she said she "found it difficult to differentiate between what was real and what was part of my imagination," and she asks for "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."
How about we put ourselves in the position of a grown woman whose made-up fantasies belonged in the fiction section, but were made more sensational (and more profitable) by purporting to have actually happened? That's plain old fraud, my friends.
Making up Holocaust stories is a dishonor to the actual victims and survivors who endured the massive genocide. It cheapens their stories, and betrays their legacies, and this woman should be ashamed of her lies. It only seems fair that she have to pay back such a large portion of the money she earned by tricking people into thinking her story was true.
Do you think she was honestly confused about the reality of her childhood?
Image via Brittney Bush Bollay/Flickr