A bestselling author, whose memoir on survival during the Holocaust was discovered to be a hoax, was ordered by a Massachusetts court last week to pay back her publishers $22.5 million.
Seventy-six year old Misha Defonseca had written an awe-inspiring story recapturing her experiences as a young Jewish girl on the run during World War II. Her memoir, published in 1997 under the title Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, told of an encounter with a Nazi rapist, a search spanning 1,900 miles for her parents, and life among a pack of wolves.
But several years later, during a 1998 court case involving the Mount Ivy Press publishing company, which put out her book, and her publisher Jane Daniel, Defonseca’s work began raising suspicions as it was found to be packed with inconsistencies.
In the case over a copyright registration claim, Daniel was ordered to pay Defonseca and her ghostwriter Vera Lee $32.4 million after Daniel was found to have conducted “highly improper representations and activities,” the Daily Mail reported.
Daniel appealed to a Massachusetts Court in 2005. But, although the court upheld the judgment, Defonseca’s claims in her memoir and in court seemed to Daniel not to match up. Following the appeal, Daniel set out to expose Defonseca once and for all.
Daniel discovered that Defonseca’s real name was Monica Ernestine Josephine De Wael, and not Misha Levy, as Defonseca’s book stated. Defonseca had also spent the war enrolled in a Belgian school, not in the European wilderness.
What’s more, Daniel discovered Defonseca was not even Jewish.
Defonseca eventually admitted that her memoir was a fake.
“This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving,” Defonseca told The Associated Press in a statement .
“I ask forgiveness to all who felt betrayed. I beg you to put yourself in my place, of a four-year-old girl who was very lost,” she added.
After coming clean, Defonseca was found guilty of fraud and ordered to return her $22.5 million share from her previous court case to Daniel.
The May 5 court verdict stated that both Defonseca and Daniel acted “highly inappropriately,” news website Mondaq reported, and expressed hope that “the saga has now come to an end.”