Facts about Misha Defonseca
Misha Defonseca Biography
Misha Defonseca became famous the first time as the author of 1997’s Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, and famous the second time when it was revealed in 2008 that she’d made the whole thing up.
The book came about thanks to publisher Jane Daniel of Mt. Ivy Press in Massachusetts, where Misha began telling her story in the 1990s. Daniel hired Vera Lee as a ghostwriter, and Lee worked with Misha to craft the memoir. Misha’s tale was that she had escaped the Nazis who killed her parents, then wandered throughout Europe during World War II as a 7 and 8 year-old. Along the way, she was sheltered by a pack of wolves and, in self-defense, killed a Nazi soldier.
Although it didn’t sell that well in the United States (5,000 copies, they say), it did better in Italy and France. The Disney company bought the film rights, and Defonseca taped an interview with Oprah Winfrey (never aired).
It was a rocky ride through the courts after that. First, a breach of contract suit was brought by Vera Lee in 1998 (she’d been dismissed just before the book’s completion). Then Lee and Defonseca sued Jane Daniel for financial improprieties and won a judgment of nearly $11 million, which was then increased by a judge to $32.4 million, in 2002.
The court case apparently prompted Daniel to look further into the veracity of Misha’s story. As it turns out, Misha was not raised by wolves and hadn’t wandered Europe during the war — she had been at school in Brussels, where she was being raised by her grandfather and uncle. Her real name was Monique de Wael, and she wasn’t even Jewish, she was Catholic. She was an orphan, as it turns out, and her parents had been killed by the Nazis, but most of her story was fake. She admitted in 2008 that her book wasn’t true, saying, “It’s not the true reality, but it’s my reality.” Finally, a Massachusetts Court of Appeals in 2014 ordered her to pay Jane Daniel $22.5 million.
The book was made into a movie in France, 2007’s Survivre aver les loupe (Surviving with the Wolves)… Publisher Jane Daniel wrote a book about her experience with Misha’s memoir, 2008’s Bestseller.