FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Email contact: Caroline Best
April 9, 2008
Publisher seeks to overturn $33 million judgment
The third act of a decade-long legal drama began on April 8 when publisher Jane Daniel filed a complaint to overturn the judgment against herself and her company, Mt Ivy Press, brought by Misha Defonseca and her ghost writer Vera Lee, over their book, MISHA A Memoire of the Holocaust Years. The trial ended in 2001 with an award to the plaintiffs of $11 million, which was trebled by the court to $33 million, then the second largest award in Massachusetts history.
"This case has been an unbelievable ordeal. My hope now is that I will be able to restore my good name," says Daniel. The new lawsuit follows the stunning confession by Defonseca on February 28, 2008 that her autobiographical account of walking 3,000 miles across the European theater of war, at the age of seven, searching for her deported Jewish parents, at times living with wolves, was completely fabricated. Her book, an international bestseller, has been translated into 18 languages and made into a French feature film, "Survival with Wolves," that premiered in Paris in January.
Although there were historians who questioned the authenticity of the story, the hoax went unchallenged for twenty years until an American genealogist, Sharon Sergeant, unearthed documents that proved Defonseca's real identity and showed that she had spent the war years in the home of her Catholic family.
Daniel's attorney, Joseph Orlando of Gloucester, MA says his client's case is unprecedented in his experience. "In the Complaint we allege that Defonseca perpetrated a fraud and a hoax based upon one of the great historical tragedies known to mankind, the Holocaust and that Defonseca's fraudulent autobiography diminishes and mocks the unimaginable suffering of millions of Jews ... at the hands of the Nazis."
In July of 2007, Daniel began writing a book based on her decade-long legal battles and posting chapters as a blog, BESTSELLERthebook.blogspot.com, with the request that anyone having information on the case contact her. Five months later, forensic genealogist Sharon Sergeant emailed her expressing her belief that she could solve the mystery. The clues were limited. In Defonseca's account she says she never knew her Jewish surname, her date and place of birth or any family names. The name she used, Monique DeWael, was a "false identity," she said, given to her by the Belgian "foster family" that hid her from the Nazis. In addition to the lack of personal information on Defonseca, Sergeant's efforts were hampered by Belgium's privacy laws that seal all vital records for 100 years.
Sergeant assembled a team that included real Jewish hidden children in the U.S. and Belgium who were the key to bringing the truth to light. "This work was very 'close to the bone' for them. It brought back excruciating memories of their own lost families," says Sergeant. "They obtained Defonseca's baptismal record and her first grade school registration that provided the central evidence needed to uncover the fraud."
When the documents appeared on Daniel's blog, they set off a firestorm across the Belgian and French media, with hour-by-hour new revelations of mounting proof that Defonseca's "memoire" was based on lies, including an interview with her 88-year-old cousin who recalled her as a child. After ten days of intense pressure, Defonseca released a statement in the leading daily newspaper, Le Soir, saying, "It is not the truth but it is my truth. I always felt Jewish."
The text of the entire complaint is online at: Complaint Against Misha Defonseca, et. al.