Letter to Rabbi Earl Kideckel

Rabbi Earl Kideckel 5/15/08

Temple Beth Torah

Holliston, MA

Dear Rabbi Kideckel,

Since we have not had the opportunity to speak together, I must make some assumptions in writing this letter. First, I assume that you know who I am. I was Misha Defonseca’s publisher, the one that she sued and against whom she won a massive judgment. I also assume that you are aware that Misha has admitted that her memoire was a hoax.

I am not sure whether you are familiar with a letter that was written by Naomi Aigner, president of Congregation Agudah Achim in December 1999 concerning that lawsuit and me. It is about that letter that I am writing you now.

I first saw the letter about a year before the trial. The woman who showed it to me was upset because she had extended enormous effort in support of Misha and she was shocked at being asked to give money as well. I, too, was shocked — by the contents of the letter and by the scathing, defamatory description of me. The letter contained many falsehoods including the statement that Misha was impoverished because of my publishing company and me.

At the time, Misha was not impoverished. I recently had subpoenaed her bank records and seen that she had almost a quarter of a million dollars passing through her accounts in the previous three years. Much of this money was as a direct result of my actions in enabling the publication of the French book. I am attaching the analysis of Misha’s finances in 1999 prepared by the genealogist who uncovered Misha’s fraud, so you can see for yourself.

Recently, other people have given me copies of that letter. I shudder to think how many people were sent the letter, how many others were shown the letter second-hand, how many more heard about it. I cringe at the thought that people believed such horrible things about me. Coming, as it did, under the letterhead of the temple, signed by the president of the temple, that letter undoubtedly has done inestimable damage to my reputation.

That said, I want to be perfectly clear that I do not blame Naomi Aigner, nor the temple, nor the rabbi, nor any of the Jewish people, nor anyone who passed the letter on. I know Misha, and how convincing she can be. I have seen how she turns people against each other and erects walls of fear and anger. I met a woman named Pat who gave Misha $2,000. Misha never told their mutual friend, Sharon, about the gift but instead said to Sharon that Pat had stolen $100 from her at a book signing. By turning people against each other and inciting distrust Misha kept people from talking and comparing notes about what they knew about her. That was one of the ways she maintained the hoax for two decades.

You may also know that I have engaged the services of an attorney and filed a complaint to overturn the judgment. What you may not know is that Misha was responsible for destroying my publishing company and my livelihood, stripping me of all my assets and ruining my reputation. Her attorneys sued my 86-year-old-father and seized my inheritance. They sued my daughter who still has a multimillion dollar lien on her home. I have spent the past ten years being mercilessly hounded by lawyers attempting to collect the $33 million judgment. It has been a living hell. And it’s still going on; just last week I got a threatening letter from Maurice.

I am writing to you today in the cause of truth and healing. I have no desire to extend the harm that Misha did to the Jewish people whom she so ruthlessly exploited. We all opened our hearts to her. We were all her victims. We are all traumatized. As a gesture of good will I want to tell you that, should you wish it, you may have an attorney of your choosing draft a Covenant Not to Sue in regard to that letter and I will sign it, no questions asked.

I would only request that those who were exploited by Misha to stand up and tell the world what happened to them — as a way of bearing witness, if you will. Right now we are all isolated in our own pain. I am hoping we can all join together and say, This is wrong. This is intolerable. This must stop. Now!

Without that effort, it will not stop. I have learned from two European journalists that Misha is working on another book. One of them said to me, “It will be more lies.” Misha and Maurice and their hoax machine are not going away unless people who know the truth decide that it’s time to call a halt to the deceit.

Karen Schulman has begun the process of gathering the truth. She has started a new blog:


I hope that those who have been harmed by Misha and Maurice will speak out. The blog is one way to do that. Anyone wishing to post a message anonymously on the blog may do so.

Karen Schulman has offered to host a meeting between you, me, and possibly Sharon Sergeant at her home. Of course, you would be welcome to bring anyone else you think should be involved. I believe such a meeting would be one way to begin to pick up the pieces and move on.

Please let me know if you are agreeable to that.

Best wishes,

Jane Daniel

978 281-7732


A Report from Sharon Sergeant, forensic genealogist

May 5, 2008: the Internal Revenue Service has placed a lien on the Dudley, MA home of Misha and Maurice Defonseca for $60,109.13 in unpaid taxes owed by Maurice Defonseca for the tax year 2005. (below)

This is just the latest in a long, long history of financial irregularities involving the Defonsecas. When the regrettable form letter (below) was sent from Congregation Agudah Achim in December of 1999, the mailing list included not only members of the Jewish community, but many others who believed Misha Defonseca’s fraudulent Holocaust story. It is clear that none of Misha’s supporters had any idea that Misha and Maurice Defonseca were hiding their assets and income, nor that the Defonsecas were soliciting money, goods and services based on knowingly fraudulent representations.

Using forensic genealogical methods and financial analysis, we have begun to compile a financial time line. The following sources were used to create this report:

Public records including deeds, foreclosure notices and recorded liens in the Registry of Deeds, Norfolk County, Massachusetts on the Defonsecas’ residence at 7 Bogastow Circle, Millis, MA, from 1985 to June 2001 [www.norfolkdeeds.org.]

Bankruptcy records for February 2001 through May 2001 for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition filed by Maurice Defonseca to eliminate unpaid debts, some stemming from the early 1990s, as well as more than $50,000 in unpaid personal loans from individuals [United States Bankruptcy Court, District of Massachusetts, Case number 01-40839 JBR.]

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue records indicate in the bankruptcy petition that the Defonsecas did not file tax returns or pay Massachusetts income taxes for at least a decade from 1990 through 2000 [United States Bankruptcy Court, District of Massachusetts, Case number 01-40839 JBR.] Based on an estimated $44,000 in back state taxes owing for this period, payment for which was a requirement of the bankruptcy plan, Maurice Defonseca’s bankruptcy petition was withdrawn.

Bank records for three of the Defonsecas’ Middlesex Savings Bank accounts for the period December 1996 through March 2001 produced through discovery in the lawsuit [MICV 1998-02-456] against Jane Daniel and Mt Ivy Press.

The Worcester County, Massachusetts Registry of Deeds masslandrecords.com/malr/index.htm for the Defonsecas’ residence at 70 Mason Road, Dudley, MA, purchased in November 2003.

The Middlesex Superior Court trial court held in its Findings of Fact (MICV 1998-02-456):

“The Defonsecas' three bank accounts reveal deposits between December 1996 and February 2000 of over $243,700.00. The evidence never made clear how, notwithstanding that amount of deposits, the Defonsecas were claiming financial hardship, such that their home was foreclosed upon in 2001.”

The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds records indicate that the Defonsecas’ Millis home was not foreclosed as they claimed, but actually sold for a profit in June of 2001. The Defonsecas were not suffering financial hardship at the time they sold their home, but were hiding cash and other assets, while soliciting money, goods and services.

This pattern of misrepresentation was also true in December 1999, when the Congregation Agudah Achim solicitation letter went out. The Defonsecas were portraying themselves as being in desperate financial circumstances. In fact, the $50,000 in personal loans shown in the 2001 bankruptcy filing are not included in the $243,700 income confirmed by the court for the period including 1997, 1998 and 1999. Despite around $300,000 of income during this roughly three-year period, the Defonseca’s attorneys, as well as veterinarians, therapists, and other service providers were persuaded to provide their services for free. Of the people who were solicited for cash, the 2001 bankruptcy petition indicates that the amounts actually procured by the Defonsecas included as much as $20,000 from just one person.

What we currently know about the fraudulent solicitations is as follows.

° The Defonsecas made a habit of withdrawing large sums of cash from their bank accounts. Misha Defonseca’s cash withdrawals, from just one Framingham bank account (Middlesex Savings Bank, primarily from account #223631634) in 1999 totaled $53,920.

° The pattern of fraudulent solicitation is exemplified by the fact that the Defonsecas withdrew $10,000 in cash in March 1999 – just two weeks before the March 24, 1999 Boston Globe Dances With Wolves (Archive fee) article by Stephen Bailey reported the following:

In a lawsuit, Defonseca has charged that tiny Mt Ivy Press, L.P. has withheld royalties and underreported sales. Defonseca says she and her husband, Maurice, are in danger of losing their Millis home and have been reduced to taking food from Jewish charities.

“I would like to see Jane Daniel and Brett Kates eating dog food, as we had to, while they were withholding at least $27,000 owed to me for several months, somewhere in a bank account in the West Indies,” Defonseca says.

° This particular instance illustrates the discrepancy between what the Defonsecas were saying publicly, what the facts were, and what they were actually doing. In addition to their misrepresentation that they were destitute, the other alleged facts were also false or misleading. Note that there is no mention in the article that there was a June 1998 motion by the attorney for Misha’s ghostwriter, Vera Lee, asking the court to hold in escrow Mt Ivy Press’ earnings, which included the royalty payments. The motion was granted and thus the royalties were suspended. Nor does the article explain that the French book revenue was direct-wired from Editions Robert Laffont into Misha Defonseca’s bank account. (Laffont never paid royalties to Mt Ivy Press.)

There are still other unanswered questions raised by the facts contained in public records.

° 1994 marked the beginning of unpaid debts showing up in liens against the Defonsecas’ Millis home. By 1997 Misha Defonseca’s cash withdrawals from the Middlesex Savings Bank accounts totaled $54,000 from more than $102,000 in deposits. 1998 cash withdrawals grew to more than $74,000 from another $102,000 in 1998 deposits. At least one payment of $6,600 from Mt Ivy Press for the Disney option did not show up in these deposits. Where did this money go?

Another poignant example of the Defonseca’s exploitation of the generosity of individuals is this: A one thousand dollar short-term loan was solicited by Maurice Defonseca in April of 1997 purportedly to use for a mortgage payment. It was documented by a promissory note signed by Maurice Defonseca agreeing to repayment in May 1997. It remained unpaid in 2001, according to the bankruptcy records – despite the fact that the Defonsecas’ bank statements showed more than $65,000 in deposits from January through April of 1997. Why hadn’t they repaid a man who loaned them $1,000 in April of 1997, when they had access to more than one hundred thousand dollars in both of the years 1997 and 1998? How many other people gave them money and were not repaid?

In fact, when the Defonsecas refinanced their Millis home mortgage in July of 1998, they only took a little over $1000 in cash from these Middlesex Bank accounts for the months of July through September of 1998. What were they living on for that three-month period in 1998? Where did it come from? Where was it being held? How many other sources of income and accounts did they have?

The 2001 bankruptcy file also lists nine other individuals who provided un-repaid personal loans to the Defonsecas for the following amounts:

Not only do the Defonseca’s Middlesex Savings Bank accounts indicate large deposits and cash withdrawals, the records also show that the Defonsecas made a habit of depositing only a tiny fraction of large checks, while taking the balance of the check in cash at the time of deposit. Thus one deposit is recorded as $12.50, but the check cashed was $2,512.50. $2,500 was taken in cash, while the bank statement indicates a deposit of only shows $12.50. The cash withdrawal total for just this one bank is incomplete.

When the Defonsecas sold their Millis home in June of 2001 for $325,000 - but claimed that they had lost it to foreclosure, they were given shelter, food, medicine, and other gifts at the home of a Milford woman who took them in believing that they were homeless and destitute. In reality, they had at least $90,000 in earned income for the year, and still continued to solicit aid from others.

By November of 2003, the Defonsecas had finally exhausted the emotional and financial resources of the compassionate woman who took them into her Milford home. She was forced to engage a lawyer to evict them from her home. They immediately purchased a new home in Dudley, MA for $190,000 plus two new cars with cash, and left more than $17,000 worth of damage at the home of the woman who had supported them for two and a half years.

During this period Misha approached a decorated Viet Nam vet whom she met years earlier at a speaking engagement in a prison where he incarcerated. She told him she was desperate and had lost her home to foreclosure. His 48 year-old wife was dying of cancer at the time. Misha knew that the vet was receiving a military pension. She told him, Your wife is dying and you are in prison so you don’t need the money. He sent her approximately $500 a month until the federal government suspended pension payments for all incarcerated veterans.

This analysis is preliminary and likely represents only the tip of the iceberg of fraudulent financial activity by the Defonsecas.


Article in Today's Jewish Advocate....

Defonseca fallout still felt months after revelation of inauthenticity

Panel formed to discuss memoir hoax's aftermath

By Lorne Bell - Friday May 16 2008

When Dudley, Mass. resident Misha Defonseca admitted last February that her Holocaust memoir, “Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years,” was a fake, Jews in Greater Boston and across Europe were shocked.

And although Defonseca’s book sold only 5,000 copies in the U.S., her elaborate deception continues to have far-reaching effects. Jane Daniel, the original publisher of Defonseca’s book, has recently joined Waltham-based genealogist Sharon Sergeant; historian and Holocaust author Susie Davidson; and local Holocaust survivor Rosian Zerner to discuss the book’s fallout as part of a series of panel discussions titled, “Deception and its Aftermath.”

“Misha mined the Jewish community and left behind her a wake of trauma,” said Daniel. “A lot of people are still in a state of shock, and feel wounded and betrayed. It is chutzpah beyond all measure.”
Defonseca’s fraudulence was revealed this winter, when Sergeant posted a response on Daniel’s Web log offering to help her uncover the author’s true past. Defonseca had already won a lawsuit against Daniel’s small publishing company, Mt. Ivy Press, in 2001, in which she claimed Daniel had withheld royalties and failed to adequately promote the book. Daniel has since filed a countersuit to overturn the court’s decision, based in part on the original contract’s presumption that Defonseca’s story was not a fictional account.
“I e-mailed Jane [Daniel] and said that I thought this case could be solved, that [Defonseca’s] identity could be verified,” said Sergeant.

Sergeant would soon reveal the truth behind the author’s fabricated story, disproving Defonseca’s claims that she had trekked across Europe as a wartime orphan, wandered in and out of the Warsaw Ghetto and taken refuge with a pack of wolves. Instead, Defonseca, whose real name was Monique De Wael, lived in Belgium with her uncle and grandfather during the war. And she is not Jewish.
“There’s so much in [the book] that’s convoluted and doesn’t have anything to do with reality,” said Sergeant. “She’s not who she said she was, and whatever her initial motivation, this became what I call a Misha Money Machine – it became a business.”

That “business” has wiped out Daniel’s own, after the 2001 ruling required Mt. Ivy Press to pay Defonseca and her French ghostwriter, Vera Lee, $32.4 million in damages.
“That’s how shnookered the court was,” Daniel said.

But the deception stretches far beyond the court and Mt. Ivy Press. After hearing that Defonseca and her husband’s Millis home was being foreclosed in 2001, Karen Schulman, a 62-year-old Jewish resident of Milford, took the couple and their 22 cats into her ranch home. “All I could think was that here is this woman who went through the Holocaust and now she is losing more – this time her home,” Schulman said. “Never in my life did I think that this was a scam.”

Defonseca and her husband, a high-level computer company executive, lived with Schulman for more than two years before she finally asked them to leave. Although she said the couple insisted on paying her $500 each month, they also reportedly purchased two new cars and, unbeknownst to Schulman, a new home in nearby Dudley. “I kept telling myself that she would not do this to me – look at what I have done for her,” said Schulman. “But she is a clever little fox. In my opinion, she needs to go to prison.”
Defonseca’s tale has also cast unfair doubts upon the credibility of true Holocaust survivors, according to Zerner. “It amazes me that there are still people who rationalize and sidestep the deception and essence of what she has done,” said Zerner. “She stole our identities as survivors. It is an offense beyond what is tolerable.”

Zerner’s own story closely resembles the fabricated past that Defonseca claimed in her book (although she never lived with wolves). As a child she was corralled into the Kovno Ghetto in Lithuania, and was shuffled from one hiding spot to another during the war. She said she hopes the panel discussion can help to alleviate concerns of other survivors and those who might doubt their stories.
Davidson, whose 2005 book, “I Refused to Die,” documents the lives of 20 survivors and concentration camp liberators, agreed. “Somebody said that to survive the Holocaust, your story had to be incredible and unbelievable,” said Davidson. “But [this incident] should not disauthenticate those experiences of true survivors whose stories are just as incredible and unimaginable and show the bravery, ingenuity and in many cases the shear luck that allowed these people to rise above the odds and survive.”