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.

# # #

From the Providence Journal

Boston author’s book a Holocaust hoax

01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, April 27, 2008

Misha Defonseca, in Millis, Mass.

The Providence Journal / RACHEL RITCHIE
On Holocaust Memorial Day this Thursday, there will be fewer eyewitness testimonies than the year before. Within the lifetimes of most people reading these words, there will be none. That is the work of time, and unalterable.

Each passing year brings greater and greater reliance on memoirs, therefore — written memories of atrocities, unspeakable crimes, incredible survival stories by those who experienced them. The vast majority are the sacred truth. But some, we are learning, are the work of frauds who would alter history for their own benefit.

The latest revelation came as a personal shock, because I had been an unwitting accomplice.

In 1997, in one of my first author profiles as books editor, I wrote about Misha Defonseca, of Millis, Mass., and her then-new book, Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years. I had heard her speak before reading the book, and had fallen under the spell of her story.

As she told it, she was seven years old in 1941, living in Brussels, Belgium, when the Nazis came to her home and arrested her Jewish parents. Misha had been hustled off to live with another family, but instead she set off on foot, alone and with only a tiny compass to guide her way eastward, to find her parents.

“Thus began a terrible odyssey,” I wrote 11 years ago. “Wandering alone on her hopeless quest for four years, clear across occupied Europe, through Germany, into Russia and back again, Misha witnessed greater horrors than most soldiers experienced on the front lines.” She wrote of entering and then escaping from the Warsaw Ghetto; living for days in midwinter without food or shelter; stabbing a Nazi soldier to death; and, perhaps most incredibly, living with a pack of wolves.

It was a wonderful story, and in fact I wondered. It “strains credulity,” I wrote, adding: “Misha offers no proof. There is none, she says. Perhaps, she says, one of the nameless people she encountered in those years will see her book and remember, and get in touch with her. She hopes so.”

That brief caveat having been delivered, I turned back to the absorbing “facts” as Defonseca related them into my tape recorder there in the living room of her modest house outside Boston.

The book, produced on a shoestring by tiny Mt. Ivy Press, had modest sales here, despite a glowing endorsement from none other than Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Prize-winning Holocaust survivor and scholar. It achieved a new life in Europe, however, where it sold more than 30,000 copies in France and Italy, was translated into 18 languages, and turned into a film, Survivre Avec les Loups (Living With Wolves), which opened in Paris in January.

Suspicions were raised almost from the first, but Defonseca had covered her tracks well. Not until the film was released did experts on wolf behavior and the Holocaust in Belgium publicly question details. Meanwhile, a genealogist in Massachusetts, working with colleagues in Brussels, found the smoking-gun evidence about her parents that finally prompted Defonseca to confess.

It was all a lie, she told the Associated Press last month. Her real name, until she married her husband, Maurice Defonseca, was Monique De Wael. She was, indeed, orphaned when her parents, who were in the Belgian resistance, were put to death by the Nazis. But they were Catholic, not Jewish, and Defonseca was raised, uneventfully, by relatives, not wolves.

In a statement released through her lawyer, Defonseca said, “The story in the book is mine. It is not the actual reality — it was my reality, my way of surviving. At first I did not want to publish it, but then I was convinced by Jane Daniel.”

The story of her relationship with Daniel, who published the book more or less single-handedly, is nearly as depressing as her own fraudulent account.

The short version: Daniel was sued by the book’s ghostwriter, Vera Lee, for illegally withholding proceeds from the book’s sales from Lee and Defonseca. In 2002, she was found guilty. The judgment was for nearly $33 million.

Daniel, who reportedly published the book despite warnings from two experts who doubted its veracity, has been among the most ardent of the debunkers since the suit was filed against her. Now she has countersued, claiming the writers should get nothing because they breached the contract, which required them to be truthful. That suit is pending.

Meanwhile, thoughtful people inside and outside the Jewish community are responding with expressions ranging from outrage to sorrow.

“It is sad. It’s just very sad,” said Elie Wiesel, who heads the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at Boston University. Reached by phone in New York last week, he told the Journal that the most important thing to note is that “very few” of the hundreds of Holocaust memoirs published in recent years have been hoaxes. But each one is a blow.

“In truth, I don’t recall reading it,” he said of Defonseca’s book, which he described as “very moving” when asked to endorse it in 1997.

“You see, when I speak with Holocaust survivors, I am always urging them to write, write, write. So whenever I receive a memoir, I am willing to say something about it. But it doesn’t mean I have read every page.”

Others have been more outspoken.

“What happened to the Jews was the worst atrocity in history, and people who exploit it for profit, by posing as Jews or lying about being part of the experience, insult those who went through it,” Lawrence L. Langer, an authority on Holocaust narratives at Simmons College, in Boston, told the Boston Globe. Langer identified himself as one of those experts who originally counseled Daniel not to publish Defonseca’s memoir. “It is as bad as saying the Holocaust never happened,” he concluded.

Which brings up the most damning aspect of the entire episode: the fact that Defonseca’s hoax is now being used as ammunition by those who would deny, or play down, the Holocaust for their own reasons.

Here’s what David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, had to say on his Web site:

“This case must cast doubt on many other ridiculously impossible Holocaust tales that have been sold as ‘true stories’ to a trusting public. The fact that the media would shamelessly promote a patently ridiculous story of a young girl trudging 5,000 kilometers through Europe with a pack of wolves shows the uncritical attitude of the media to all things ‘Holocaust.’ ”

I ended my story of 11 years ago with a quote from Defonseca. Little did I know then how ironic it would seem now.

She told her story, she said, because “bigotry and prejudice and hatred — they have not disappeared. And I do it for this reason.

“But I have not confidence in the human race. Not at all.”



From National Law Journal...

©2008 National Law Journal Online

Page printed from: http://www.nlj.com


Firm named in suit filed over controversial Holocaust book

Sheri Qualters / Staff reporter

April 15, 2008

BOSTON — A Massachusetts publisher has filed a new lawsuit in Middlesex Superior Court to fight a $33 million judgment that stemmed from a business dispute about a book written by a woman who claimed wolves befriended her during the Holocaust.

Jane Daniel of Gloucester, Mass. and her company Mt. Ivy Press sued the writer Monique De Wael, who is also known as Misha Defonseca and her ghostwriter Vera Lee. Defonseca and Lee are both Massachusetts residents.

Daniel also named the Boston law firm Edward Angell Palmer & Dodge on the lawsuit. Mt. Ivy Press v. DeWael, No. MICV2008-01432 (Middlesex Co., Mass., Super. Ct.)

In February, Defonseca's public statements that she fabricated some of the best-selling book led to widespread publicity. Daniel is asking the court to set aside judgment for the fraud and relief from the prior judgment.

Lee initially sued Daniel, Mt. Ivy Press and Defonseca for breach of contract, fraud and other claims and Daniel countersued. Lee v. Mt. Ivy Press, No. MICV1998-02456 (Middlesex Co., Mass., Super. Ct.).

In August 2001, a jury found that Mt. Ivy Press has breached its publishing agreement with Lee and Defonseca and had violated Massachusetts consumer protection laws in its business dealings with them.

The jury awarded damages of about $11 million to the plaintiffs, which the trial court later tripled to $33 million for the consumer protection violations. The court also gave Defonseca the dramatic, movie, television and radio rights.

Daniel appealed, and the Appeals Court of Massachusetts upheld the lower court's ruling and denied Daniel's motion for a new trial. Vera Lee v. Mt. Ivy Press, No. 2003-P-1496 (Mass. App. Ct.).

Lee's attorney Frank J. Frisoli Jr. of Frisoli & Frisoli in Cambridge, Mass. said Daniel pocketed the revenue from the book and didn't pay Defonseca or Lee.

"The judgment is because she stole money she cheated them out of the revenue from the work," Frisoli said.

Frisoli also said some of the statements in the new complaint are inconsistent with the facts disclosed at the trial.

"This issue was already litigated," Frisoli said. "This complaint has no merit."

Daniel's lawyer Joseph M. Orlando of Orlando & Associates in Gloucester, Mass. said the judgment awarded to Defonseca and Lee was "based on perjured testimony which resulted in a fraud on the court." Orlando also said that Defonseca and Lee signed contracts with Mt. Ivy Press declaring that Defonseca's story was truthful and accurate when it was not.

"That fact casts a shadow over every finding by the jury and the court, including those in regards to finances," Orlando said. "Once the judgment is vacated, auditors will have the opportunity to review all the financial issues to determine the truth."

In a statement, Edward Angell said it was named in the current and prior case only because its predecessor firm held funds in dispute among its former clients, Mt. Ivy Press, Defonseca and Lee. "Mt. Ivy Press is now seeking a declaration that it is entitled to client funds that the firm was directed in the earlier case to pay to Ms. Defonseca and Ms. Lee."


Press Release: Legal Action Follows Expose of Holocaust Fraud

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.

# # #

Complaint Filed In Middlesex Superior Court Against Misha Defonseca et. al.

Yesterday a complaint was filed in Middlesex Superior Court on behalf of Jane Daniel and Mount Ivy press against Monique DeWael, a/k/a Misha Defonseca, Vera Lee, and Edwards, Angell, Palmer and Dodge. The complaint was filed by attorneys Joseph M. Orlando and Brian M. McCormick.

In part, the Complaint reads:


6. In 1994, the plaintiff, Daniel, was working as a publisher/editor at Mt Ivy Press, LP, a small publishing company, founded by the plaintiff, the previous year.

7. In the course of the plaintiff's business, the plaintiff, Daniel, met the defendant, Defonseca.

8. When the plaintiff first met the defendant, Defonseca, Defonseca related that:

a. As a Jewish child, age 7, she was living in Belgium, when her parents were arrested by the Nazis in 1941;

b. She was placed in a foster home, and she was given a false identity, Monique DeWael, age four. Such identity was assumed for the purposes of protecting herself from the Nazis;

c. Defonseca was befriended by a man, who she referred to as "grandfather," whose name was Ernest DeWael, who gave her a tiny compass, and showed her a map of Europe;

d. When Ernest DeWael expressed to Defonseca concern that the Nazis would come for her, Defonseca set out on a journey "to the East" in search of her parents;

e. Over the next four years, Defonseca walked three thousand miles across the European theater of war, hiding in forests where twice she was befriended by wolves.

9. Defonseca further related to the plaintiff that she had been telling her story, and soliciting contributions from speaking engagements since approximately 1989-1990, and had been warmly embraced by the Jewish community in the Boston area and elsewhere.

10. Upon hearing the story, as related by the defendant, Defonseca, the plaintiff offered to publish Defonseca's autobiography (hereinafter, "the book").

11. Defonseca engaged a French-speaking writer, defendant, Vera Lee, to ghostwrite Defonseca's story, as Defonseca's command of the English language was weak.

12. Defonseca and Lee signed a collaboration agreement, intended to set forth the respective rights of the parties.

13. Both Defonseca and Lee signed publishing agreements with Mt Ivy Press, LP, in August of 1995.

14. Both publishing agreements contained the following warranty:

A. The Author represents and warrants to the Publisher that, with respect to the Work as submitted by Author, excluding revisions or additions by Publisher (i) the Work is not in the public domain; (ii) the Author and her collaborator are the sole and exclusive owners of the Work and have full power, free of any rights of any nature whatsoever in any one that mightinterfere therewith, to enter into this Agreement and to grant the rights hereby conveyed to the Publisher, (iii) the Work has not heretofore been published in whole or in part; (iv) the Work is original except for material in the public domain and such excerpts from other works as may be included with the written permission of the owners thereof; (v) the Work does not, and if published will not, infringe upon any proprietary right at common law; or any statutory copyright, or trade names, or patent, or trademark rights, or any other right whatsoever, (vi) the Work contains no matter whatsoever that is obscene, libelous, in violation of any right of privacy, or otherwise in contravention of law or the right of any third party; (vii) all statements of fact are true or based upon reasonable belief, except for facts and identities deliberately misstated to preserve confidentiality or for other valid reasons, provided the Author notifies the Publisher thereof (viii) the Work, if biographical or “as told to” the Author, is authentic, and (ix) the Author will not hereafter enter into any agreement or understanding with any person, firm, or corporation that might conflict with the rights herein granted to the Publisher.

15. Defonseca and Lee set to work to draft the manuscript. Over time, disagreements arose between Lee and Defonseca regarding the scheduling of time to work together on the manuscript.

16. During the same time frame, disputes began to arise between Lee, Daniel, and Defonseca, regarding the plaintiff's editorial dissatisfaction with respect to the form, substance, and delayed production time of the manuscript.

17. Defonseca's account of her experience could not be subjected to standard verification and process, due to the absence of certain critical information, including, but not limited to:

a. Defonseca reported that she did not know, and had never been told, her Jewish surname;

b. She had simply been called "Mischke," and never known her parents by any names other than "Gerusha,"(her mother, a Russian Jew), and "Reuven,"(her father, a German Jew);

c. Her parents were emigrees to Belgium;

d. She did not know her place of birth, but represented that she suspected it may have been Poland.

18. In the course of her research, the plaintiff, Daniel, learned that, at times, Jewish children of the Holocaust lost their identities when their parents were taken away.

19. Without the names, date, and place of birth of "Mischke," it was not possible for the plaintiff to check the personal aspects of the story.

20. To ready the manuscript for publication, the plaintiff attempted to undertake fact checking, including verifying historical and descriptive details, researching historical events, studying the flora and fauna of geographical locations and investigating behavior of wolves in the wild, etc.

21. The plaintiff also sent the manuscript to wolf experts, and to Jewish scholars and Holocaust experts for review.

22. Enthusiastic endorsements were returned from several luminaries, including the chaplain of Brandeis University, Rabbi Albert Axelrod, Noble Laureate and renowned Holocaust survivor, Eli Wiesel, Leonard Zakim, director of the New England region of the Anti-Defamation League, and the North American Wolf Foundation.

23. The American book was published in April 1997, under the title, Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years. American edition, was followed shortly thereafter by a French version, published by Editions Lafont, under the title, Surivre avec les loups, (Survival with Wolves), the production of which was under the oversight of Defonseca exclusively. Neither Mt Ivy Press, nor Jane Daniel, had any input with respect to the French edition, other than to make several specific minor corrections request by Lafont. Other foreign editions followed.

24. Two significant changes were made in the Lafont editions, and subsequent editions controlled by Defonseca. Identifying photographs were removed, and the "false identity" of "Mischke" was changed from Monique DeWael, to Monique Valle.

25. In 1997, Lee initiated a suit against plaintiffs Daniel and Mt Ivy Press, and defendant, Defonseca, in Middlesex Superior Court, C.A. No. 98-2456, alleging, among other things, breach of contract.

26. From the inception of the underlying litigation in May 1998, until March 1999, Defonseca represented herself.

27. In the course of her self-representation, defendant, Defonseca, filed a counter-claim against Lee, affirmatively representing, among other things, breach of contract.

28. The counter-claim filed by Defonseca against Lee represented that Defonseca had complied with all of the terms of the collaboration agreement, including that the book was, "based on the author's life experience, accomplishments, and impact upon society."

To read the full text of the complaint, click here.

Press Release to follow.