New panel explores widespread ramifications of recently-revealed Holocaust memoir hoax

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Susie Davidson

New panel explores widespread ramifications of recently-revealed Holocaust memoir hoax

In February, 2008, Misha Defonseca confessed that her bestselling autobiography, “Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years,” published in 1997, was a hoax. Publisher Jane Daniel appears in a new speaking tour addressing the hoax, along with genealogist Sharon Sergeant, who compiled the evidence that led to Defonseca’s confession; oral historian and Holocaust author Susie Davidson (“I Refused to Die”); and Holocaust child survivor Rosian Zerner.

The panel will explore the following areas:
° What are the consequences when an impostor usurps Holocaust history and places real survivors in question?
° In the light of other recent fake memoirs, how can publishers be sure that what they publish is true?
° What effect does a fake Holocaust testimonial have on deniers of the Holocaust?
° How did Misha Defonseca sustain the hoax for ten years and how was it exposed?

An open discussion period will follow the presentation.

Full information follows.

For booking information, contact Susie Davidson at Susie_d@yahoo.com or 617-566-7557.

New panel explores widespread ramifications of recently-revealed Holocaust memoir hoax

In recognition of Yom HaShoah, I would like to bring to your attention a new program being offered in the Boston area. As you may be aware, recently a Massachusetts woman, Misha Defonseca, confessed that her internationally-bestselling autobiography, “Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years,” was actually a hoax.

This new program, called “Deception and its Aftermath,” presents four women affected by the challenges that stem from this revelation, who discuss protecting the truth of the Holocaust from those who would usurp it.

Misha Defonseca began telling her fabricated story in 1989 when she spoke at a local synagogue on Yom HaShoah. Defonseca recounted that, as a seven-year-old child living in occupied Belgium, she set off on foot across the European theatre of war in search of her parents, who had been arrested by the Nazis. Twice during her travels, she said, she was befriended by wolves. It was all a lie. The truth is that she spent the war years at home with her Catholic family.

Nevertheless, for years Defonseca was warmly embraced by the local Jewish community. Those who were deceived by her story booked appearances for her, attended her speeches in schools and universities, and donated money. Such prominent figures as Elie Wiesel, the late Leonard Zakim, and Rabbi Albert Axelrod, then Chaplain of Brandeis University, contributed liner notes for her book.

The aftermath of her confession personally and profoundly impacts thousands in the Boston area who heard her speak and offered their support. Beyond that, this revelation affects those who gather stories of Holocaust survivors and Holocaust survivors themselves. There remain innumerable questions as to how such a monumental fraud could have occurred.

The panelists include:

Jane Daniel of Mt Ivy Press, the publisher whose original American edition of “Misha” was the basis of an international bestseller and a French feature film. Daniel herself painstakingly fact-checked the story line by line and employed other researchers, but in the end was also taken in. Defonseca sued Daniel, her U.S. publisher, in 1998, winning a $22 million judgment and the return of all rights to the story based on the finding that Mt Ivy had failed to sufficiently promote her book. Daniel has filed a lawsuit to overturn the judgment and posted chapters of her upcoming book on a blog.

Sharon Sergeant, the forensic genealogist who put together the team of researchers, who included real “hidden children” Holocaust survivors, that amassed the indisputable evidence leading to Defonseca’s confession. Sergeant’s work was made more challenging by the fact that Belgium has privacy laws that seal vital records for 100 years. As a member of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council Board of Directors, Sergeant advocates for open records to prevent fraud; in this instance, she employed a methodology that can be used by anyone doing historical research on their own family.

Susie Davidson, journalist for the Jewish Advocate and weeklies, poet, and 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." She speaks about and teaches courses on the Holocaust and global genocide with Dachau liberator Chan Rogers, and organizes genocide awareness events with the local Armenian and Rwandan communities. Davidson is a co-coordinator of the Boston chapter of COEJL, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and a board member of the Boston-based activist umbrella organization Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow.

Rosian Zerner, who survived the Holocaust in the Kovno Ghetto, Lithuania, and in hiding. She is the former Vice President of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust, where she also served on the Advisory Board and as elected Secretary. She is the contact person for the Greater Boston Child Survivor group, where she serves as representative on the WFJCS Governing Board and as Liaison to “Generations After,” a group for descendants of survivors. She is the Jewish Community Relations Council representative from the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston, where she serves on the Executive Committee. She is on the Holocaust survivors' Advisory Board (Hakalah) at the Jewish Family and Children's Service, is a docent for the New England Holocaust Memorial, and is on the Yom Hashoah Planning Committee and the Board of American Friends of Mogen Dovid Adom. Zerner has been the keynote speaker at the annual Yom HaShoah commemoration at Faneuil Hall, speaks at universities, synagogues, senior centers, clubs and organizations, and is an advocate on behalf of survivors.

# # #

1 comment:

AJ said...

I work for the New York Public Library. I was not sure how to email you so I am sending you this comment.
Having read about your horrible ordeal. I did have a suggestion.
It is against the law in this country to lie on your immigration forms. Having just read a fraction of your ordeal it would seem to me that she did the same to the INS.
During the disclosure of process of your case I would suggest that how she came the US be covered.
If their is evidence that she falsafied her foms she is liable to be deported. You go to court and get what is called a writ of mandamus. The writ in this case would be to have her deported for lying on her INS forms.