Readers may be interested in these letters that appeared about the Defonseca saga in the Globe:
Taken in by a Holocaust memoir
March 7, 2008
AS 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.
The 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"
Misguided view on veracity of Holocaust memories
March 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,
The writer is the author of "Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory."
Statements regarding verification of Holocaust stories still ring true
I 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.
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.
I 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. (Note: Ms. Hamblin is incorrect about this. According to the article written by Marc Metdapenningen and published in Le Soir, Defonseca's father was a traitor and Gestapo collaborator who died a natural death.)
WE 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.
Assistant director Wolf Hollow
AFTER 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.