Author of fake Holocaust memoir ordered to repay US$22.5m to publisher

Judge orders writer to repay cash to publisher after it is revealed she made up bestselling tale of being raised by wolves after escaping Nazis

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, 9:16pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 3:53am


The author of a fake memoir about how she fled the Holocaust as a child and was raised by wolves during the second world war has been ordered to pay back US$22.5m to her publisher.

Misha Defonseca's extraordinary story was published almost 20 years ago as Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years.

The book describes how, when she was six, the author's Jewish parents were taken from their home in Belgium by the Nazis. It tells how she set off across Belgium, Germany and Poland to find them on foot, living on stolen scraps of food until she was adopted by a pack of wolves.

She also claimed she shot a Nazi soldier in self-defence.

The story was a bestseller and was made into a film in France, but in 2008 it was found to be fabricated.

The author - whose real name was found to be Monique De Wael - said that "it's not the true reality, but it is my reality".

One part of the story was true - as a young girl, she lost her parents. Both were members of the Resistance and were deported and killed. But she was raised by relatives, not wolves. Nor is she Jewish, it was discovered.

"Yes, my name is Monique De Wael, but I have wanted to forget it since I was four years old," she said in 2008.

"My parents were arrested and I was taken in by my grandfather, Ernest De Wael, and my uncle, Maurice De Wael. I was called 'daughter of a traitor' because my father was suspected of having talked under torture in the prison of Saint-Gilles. Ever since I can remember, I felt Jewish."

Before the fabrications were exposed, the author and her ghostwriter, Vera Lee, had won US$32.4 million from her US publisher Mt Ivy and its founder Jane Daniel after bringing a copyright case against them.

Daniel went on to appeal against the ruling and to conduct her own research into the story. She found documents revealing that rather than "running with the wolf pack" Defonseca went to school in Brussels in 1943.

Now a judge has ruled that despite the author's claims that she believed her story to be true during the publication process, she will have to pay back the money she was awarded, which amounts to US$22.5 million.

"The falsity of the story is undisputed," the judge wrote. Additional reporting by McClatchy-Tribune