BOSTON — Almost nothing Misha Defonseca wrote about herself or her horrific childhood during the Holocaust was true.
She didn't live with a pack of wolves to escape the Nazis. She didn't trek 1,900 miles across Europe in search of her deported parents or kill a German soldier in self-defense. She's not even Jewish.
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Defonseca, a Belgian writer now living in Massachusetts, has admitted that her best-selling book, Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years, as an elaborate fantasy she kept repeating, even as the book 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 given by her lawyers to The Associated Press. ”I ask forgiveness to all who felt betrayed. I beg you to put yourself in my place, of a 4-year-old girl who was very lost.“
Defonseca, 71, wrote in her book that Nazis seized her parents when she was a child, forcing her to wander the forests and villages of Europe alone for four years. She claimed she found herself trapped in the Warsaw ghetto and was adopted by a pack of wolves that protected her.
Defonseca says that her real name is Monique De Wael and that her parents were arrested and killed by Nazis as Belgian resistance fighters.
The statement said her parents were arrested when she was 4, and she was taken care of by her grandfather and uncle. She said she was poorly treated by her adopted family, called 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.“
Pressure on the author to defend the accuracy of her book had grown in recent weeks, after the release of evidence found by Sharon Sergeant, a genealogical researcher in Waltham. Sergeant said she found clues in the unpublished U.S. version of the book, including Defonseca's maiden name ”De Wael“ — which was changed in the French version — and photos.
After a few months of research, she found Defonseca's Belgian baptismal certificate and school record, as well as information that showed her parents were members of the Belgian resistance.
Defonseca's attorneys, siblings Nathalie and Marc Uyttendaele, contacted the author to show her evidence published in the Belgian daily Le Soir, which also questioned her story. ”We gave her this information, and it was very difficult. She was confronted with a reality that is different from what she has been living for 70 years,“ Nathalie Uyttendaele said.
Defonseca's admission is just the latest controversy surrounding her 1997 book, which spawned a multimillion-dollar legal battle among Defonseca, her co-author and the book's U.S. publisher.
Defonseca had been asked to write the book by publisher Jane Daniel in the 1990s, after Daniel heard the writer tell the story in a Massachusetts synagogue.
Daniel and Defonseca fell out over profits from the best-selling book, which led to a lawsuit. In 2005, a Boston court ordered Daniel to pay Defonseca and her ghost writer Vera Lee $22.5 million. Defonseca's lawyers said Daniel has not yet paid the court-ordered sum.
Daniel said she felt vindicated by Defonseca's admission and would try to get the judgment overturned. She said she could not fully research Defonseca's story before it was published because the woman claimed she did not know her parents' names, her birthday or where she was born.
”There was nothing to go on to research,“ she said.
Lee, the ghost writer, said she ”was just totally bowled over by the news.“ She said she always believed Defonseca's stories, and no research she did gave her a reason not to.