Based on the True Story of the Largest Judgment Against A Publisher in History ---
A Shocking Look Inside the Wildcat World of Independent Publishing
My wife and I met Misha Defonseca at a restaurant in the early 1990s. The restaurant, in Walpole, MA, then named The Foundry, featured a traditional jazz band on Friday nights. Misha and her husband, Maurice, were there. She was telling us and other people that she had been an actress in Belgium and France, appearing in plays and movies. Later, at a dinner she gave at Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, she passed around photos allegely showing her in various acting roles. Each photo was of a different woman, but she claimed they all depicted her. I later got her book out of the library in Medfield, MA, and I read most of it. It was poorly written and obviously a pack of lies. Nowhere in the book did Misha claim that after World War II she had been an actress, but she claimed she had been a schoolteacher. She is a liar, and the story in her book is indeed a hoax. When she was supposed to be destitute, because the publisher was allegedly cheating her out of money, she was working for speaker agencies, making money. The court deciion in the lawsuit was ridiculous. I cannot see how anyone could have believed her story about the wolves taking care of her while she, as a young Jewish child, walked from Nazi-occupied Belgium through Nazi Germany, through the battles between the Germans and he Soviets into the Ukraine, coming back to Belgium through the Balkans, including Yugoslavia, where Tito and Mihalevich were fighting each other and the Nazis, and into Italy, where a war was going on, and back into Belgium. The trip allegedly took four years, and wolves allegely proteced her. Oh, yes, she told me that when the Nazis arrested her parents and took them to a concentraton camp, nuns took care of her, but she heard them talking and wanting to turn her over to the Gestapo in order to get more food for the convent. That is when she ran away and walked acroos wartime Europe for four years, seeking her parents. Misha was not even Jewish, but Catholic, and she made money off the Holocust. Her whole story is nonsense! The court judgment against the publisher should be overturned, and the publisher should be allowed to retain her house.
Readers may be interested in these letters that appeared about the Defonseca saga in the Globe:http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/letters/articles/2008/03/07/taken_in_by_a_holocaust_memoir/Taken in by a Holocaust memoirMarch 7, 2008AS A chronicler of Holocaust memoirs, I read the saga of Misha Defonseca and publisher Jane Daniel with interest and more than a little apprehension ("Den of lies," Living/Arts, March 1).It is indeed difficult if not impossible to even check on, let alone determine, the veracity of the stories of Holocaust survivors. Nazi records, if there is anything of relevance in them regarding individual survivors, are only just now beginning to come out, as in the case of the recently released Bad Arolsen archives. Often, one has little to rely on besides an occasional lucky link between available records and a traumatized, and perhaps somewhat compromised, elderly memory. Exaggeration, embellishment, and fabrication, which can and do exist in any interviewing, always end disastrously, as we see in this saga, which even drew in the likes of Elie Wiesel.Thus, going into the collecting process with hope for monetary success is ambiguous at best and futile at worst. Yes, Daniel has expenses and business concerns. But in most cases, documenting the memoirs of others does not result in financial gain. Certainly with regard to atrocities such as the Holocaust, the preservation of memories holds other rich rewards for both the teller and the scribe, but most authors know to keep their day jobs.SUSIE DAVIDSONBrooklineThe writer, a journalist for the Jewish Advocate, is the author of "I Refused to Die: Stories of Boston-Area Holocaust Survivors and Soldiers who Liberated the Concentration Camps of World War II" and "Jewish Life in Postwar Germany"http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/letters/articles/2008/03/18/misguided_view_on_veracity_of_holocaust_memories/Misguided view on veracity of Holocaust memoriesMarch 18, 2008 SUSIE DAVIDSON'S assertion that it is is misguided and should not remain unchallenged ("Taken in by a Holocaust memoir," Letters, March 7). It is also not true that Nazi records "are only just now beginning to come out." Archives have been available in Germany and elsewhere for decades to validate the roundups and deportation of Jews from particular communities in Europe.Expecting witnesses who tell of their ordeals on transports and in camps to offer proof that they were in a particular ghetto or camp is like Swiss bank officials demanding that children of survivors whose parents had been gassed furnish copies of the death certificates.But most disturbing is Davidson's claim that, when interviewing Holocaust survivors, about all we have to rely on is "a traumatized, and perhaps somewhat compromised, elderly memory." As someone who has spent more than a decade interviewing Holocaust survivors, I have found the exact reverse to be true.Misha Defonseca's book is so full of confirmable historical errors that on that basis alone it was possible for informed readers to recognize that her narrative could not be true.LAWRENCE L. LANGER,West NewtonThe writer is the author of "Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory."Statements regarding verification of Holocaust stories still ring trueI stand by my assertions that were taken to task by Lawrence Langer ("Misguided view on veracity of Holocaust memories," Letters, March 18). My statement that Langer quoted, "it is difficult if not impossible to even check on, let alone determine, the veracity of the stories of Holocaust survivors," concerns, as it states, survivors' actual stories, rather than the Nazi deportation archives Langer mentions (which I have seen, some in actuality, in Germany).Langer analogizes my statements on lack of supporting documentation to my asking the survivors I have interviewed to furnish proof. I have never done such a thing; to the contrary, over the past several years, I have organized public events, always sold my books at cost, charged no speaker fee though I invited and paid other supporting speakers, and, most importantly, publicly read these stories in forums ranging from the Boston Public Library to myriad bookstores, classrooms, synagogues, senior and veterans' centers in an effort to spread awareness of the bravery of these people during the terrible times they lived through.Yes, I have taken these dear souls at their word. That does not mean I believe that every word is inscribed, and I'm sure the survivors wouldn't either. No memory is perfect. Trauma is affecting. Although I have done my best to verify what survivors in my books have told me, feel that the stories are true, like Langer am highly impressed at their ability to recount their tales, and wholly believe in their sincerity and honesty, I am not afraid to state that I would never take credit for 100 percent, iron-clad verifiability.SUSIE DAVIDSONBrooklineTo: email@example.com Subject: Records, as well as memory, can indeed be fallible Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2008 18:37:07 +0000 I beg to differ with Lawrence Langer. First, I have a hard time believing that Nazi records released thus far have been all that forthcoming, let alone totally forthright. Second, the sheer breadth of fallout from the deception of Misha DeFonseca alone speaks for the need to be as careful as Susie Davidson has been in her books. I recently saw a local public television show try to deal with having had a World War II soldier on the preview hour to Ken Burns' documentary "The War", telling tall tales about his bravery that were soon unveiled as fabrication. This and DeFonseca's book have certainly not been the only instances of unintentional publication and broadcasting of fraudulent or incorrect memoirs in the media, because, as Davidson said, memory, as well as recordkeeping, are not always correct.As the nephew and namesake of one of the navigators of the Exodus 1947, whose own story few would believe if it weren't true, I appreciate writers like Davidson who make the effort to verify, admit they can be fallible, and do their work for no personal gain.FRANK LEVINEMaldenI REPRESENTED Misha Defonseca in litigation against Jane Daniel. I worked closely with Defonseca for more than six years. I learned that her memoir was a fabrication when her statement was published in the Globe.The article cites Lawrence L. Langer as expressing outrage that anyone could exploit the Holocaust for profit. Langer, an authority on the subject, goes so far as to compare them to Holocaust deniers. I think this is an unfortunate overstatement.The irony is that Defonseca's real story seems to be even more compelling than the fabrication. According to the researcher who uncovered the truth, her parents were Catholic members of the Belgian resistance who were captured and killed by Nazis. It is one thing to belong to a group targeted for oppression or genocide and something quite different to choose to align yourself with such a group and share its fate. Whatever our beliefs about our own integrity or moral fiber, there are few among us who would make that choice once we have assumed the obligations of parenthood.Defonseca's parents were among this rarest sort of human. Their daughter paid a horrible price for that choice.RAMONA HAMBLINNewtonWE AT Wolf Hollow were saddened by the revelation that Misha Defonseca's incredible memoir was an elaborate hoax. Upon meeting her in 1996, we were awed by her story. We were aware of many documented cases of children raised by animals, including chimpanzees, apes, and indeed wolves. Wolves live in packs that mirror our own human families, and are considered the most socially complex nonprimate mammal. In our talks with Defonseca, she demonstrated an intimate knowledge of wolf behavior. Who would not want to believe such a heartwarming story in the midst of one of mankind's darkest times?We became close friends with Defonseca, subsequently holding book signings and hosting a film crew from "The Oprah Winfrey Show." We spoke of her when visitors to Wolf Hollow would ask of the validity of tales of wolf-raised children, and even named a wolf puppy Misha. Readers can imagine how shocked we are now.For someone to feel the need to create such a story in lieu of reality is the truly sad story. Despite the deception, the Misha that we knew is a warm woman and an advocate for animals, and we trust that that much is still true.ZEE SOFFRONAssistant director Wolf HollowIpswichAFTER READING this story, I was speechless. I have known Misha Defonseca since 1988, when she and her family moved to Millis, and we became close friends. I truly believed her story, and supported her efforts in writing her memoirs.One speech she gave stands out in my mind, a night at Brandeis. Several hundred students, faculty, friends, and true Holocaust survivors gathered to hear her story, and many tears were shed as the story unfolded. Holocaust survivors in attendance that evening called out the names of the death camps they were in, and a moment of silence was observed. This experience will live in my memory forever.I feel so betrayed, yet my heart is broken for the true Holocaust survivors she used to promote her lies. When her book was published, I felt honored that she put my name in it, and now I am ashamed. I want no association with the lies.PATRICIA CUNNINGHAMMillis
Have you tried to track down Morris Levy? Statements about the age of the son, the earlier photos of the adolescent son with a younger Misha and the date of Maurice's marriage to Misha suggest that the son may be Maurice's son. Is that possible?It is clear that while Misha did not mind that her Defonseca name was known in Europe, she did not want any photos of her younger self published from the book published in Paris, where she once lived. Could her photograph have disclosed to those that knew her that she was known by yet another name while they lived in Paris? and where did she get these ideas about the holocaust. It should be known that there is a woman in France by the name of Monique Levy who was secretary in the department of Jewish Archives in France. This woman helped authors research books about the holocaust and "Jewish children who had lost their identities" during WWII. Maurice is the French name for Morris. Could Maurice Defonesca and Morris Levy be the same person? Anonymous
We have no evidence that Misha Defonseca is related to anyone in Franceassociated with the Jewish archives with the name Monique Levy. It isuncustomary for Belgian women to use their former husband's name,especially so many years after the divorce. In Misha's case it appearsto be a way of reinforcing the Jewish image.We did consider such possibilities with the Morris Levy and MauriceDefonseca first name similarities. However, they are two separate husbands, and two very different men. We were able to track many of Monique's activities through her husbands and son's whereabouts and careers.Morris Levy is a very common name, and there are three Morris Levys tokeep straight in this story.Morris Levy (1) was born in Smyrna, Turkey on May 29, 1887 andimmigrated to Belgium where he engaged in the movie importing businessin Schaerbeek. He had several children with Germaine Reps (Belgian bornJune 14, 1912) including Morris Levy (2), Monique De Wael's firsthusband, and Marguerite Levy, the little girl also registered inMonique's first grade class in 1943. It is entirely possible thatMonique's description of a Jewish hidden child's emotional life wererelated by her Sephardic Jew in-laws.Morris Levy (2) was born in 1931 and became a marine engineer. He livedat 36 rue du Pavillon, Schaerbeek when he married Monique De Wael onJanuary 15, 1959. He then moved into her apartment at 73 rue FrançoisYsenwyn in Anderlecht. Their son, Morris Levy (3) was born October 25,1962 and named Morris Robert Levy with Monique's father's name as amiddle name in the tradition of Monique's Catholic family.Meanwhile, Maurice Defonseca (who was born in Brugges in 1940),graduated with a Masters in Business Administration from BrusselsUniversity in 1962, and then became a director general of the CommercialBank of the Congo. Oddly enough, Maurice did not include his Congo jobin the listing he placed in a 1992 directory:Name: Defonseca, Maurice JosephBirth - Death: 1940-Source Citation: Who's Who in the World. 11th edition, 1993-1994. NewProvidence, NJ: Marquis Who's Who, 1992. (WhoWor 11)1962 Brussels University, Masters in Business Administration.1964-1976 Manager, Large Systems, Bull GE, Brussels1976-1980 Director, Marketing and Sales, Bull Honeywell, Belgium1980-1985 CEO Bull Honeywell, Amsterdam, Netherlands1986-1988, Director Honeywell, Boston1989-1992 CEO Phillips NV, Paris1993-Present Independent Business ConsultantWhen Maurice came back to Belgium he was probably living for a time at 6rue du Coq in Ohain, a small residential area about 25 kms south ofBrussels. It is reported that Maurice was also married with childrenduring this time, and that he met Monique at Bull in about 1968. Mauricefirst moved into the greater Brussels area at 37 Drève des Renards in Uccle.Monique appears to own the apartment at 73 rue Fr. Ysenwyn, Anderlechtthroughout the 1970s, but address changes indicate a tumultuous personallife during this period while Maurice is rapidly moving up theinternational executive ranks in the the Bull GE/Honeywell mergers.In 1971 Monique's husband Morris (2) is living at 39 rue du Métal, StGilles. By 1972, Monique is listed both at Maurice's new address at31 rue des Astronômes in Uccle, as well as the old 73 rue Fr. Ysenwyn,Anderlecht address. Morris (2) filed for divorce in December of 1972.Monique and Maurice married in September of 1973.Morris(2) is later listed at 12 Place Liedts in Schaerbeek and then in1980 at 5 avenue des Croix du Feu in Brussels. It is not known whetherhe died or left the country at this time, perhaps to the Congo. Moniquereported that she worked on ships between Belgium and the Congo for twoyears until it became a war zone before she married Morris (2) in 1959.Monique's son Morris Robert's address when he is still a minor issometimes listed at the Anderlecht and Uccle addresses, as well as at357 avenue de la Couronne in Ixelles.Monique reports that the period they lived in Amsterdam from 1980-1985included many trips. Somewhere along the line, she also is reported tohave lived with a family in Arizona, perhaps related to Maurice's workwith the large Bull facilities there.It appears that Maurice and Monique maintained multiple or separatehouseholds at various times. In 1985, Maurice is listed at a temporaryaddress in West Newton, Massachusetts before he buys a home in Millis,Massachusetts. Oddly enough, Monique's name is scratched off the 1985deed and is not added until 1988 with a Quit Claim Deed. During1988-1989, Maurice leaves Honeywell Bull to become CEO of the PhilipsComputer company in Paris.Monique is reported to have lived in Paris for a while, but they keptthe Millis home. Maurice also commuted between Paris and Millis whenMonique remained in Millis. Meanwhile, Monique began creating herHolocaust story in the local Massachusetts Jewish community as early as1989-1990. She also invited her Belgian childhood friends and her DeWael cousins to visit her in the early 1990s. One friend reportedly did visit andwas told that "a surprise" was in the works. Once the fraud was exposedin February, the same woman told a Belgian reporter that she had beentrying to get both the Belgian and French press to realize it was a hoaxsince 1997, but to no avail.By 1993, Maurice's executive career at Philips in Paris has ended, andhe is back in Millis.
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