The Belgian author of a fake Holocaust memoir published 20 years ago has been ordered by a Massachusetts appeals court to pay back £13.3m to her publisher.
Misha Defonseca’s book Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years tells how the author’s Jewish parents were captured by the Nazis, leaving their six-year-old daughter to travel across Belgium, Germany and Poland by foot until she was adopted by a pack of wolves.
The book, which became a huge bestseller, was translated into 18 languages and made into a feature film in France, describes how Misha survived on scraps of stolen food and shot a Nazi soldier in self-defence.
But in 2008, it was found to be fabricated. The author had won £13.3m in a copyright case against her US publisher Mt. Ivy, prompting the firm to appeal and research her story.
Birth documents revealed that Defonseca’s real name was De Wael and she was not in fact Jewish. Rather than living with wolves, she was enrolled in a Brussels school in 1943.
“It’s not the true reality, but it is my reality”, she admitted in 2008. “Ever since I can remember, I felt Jewish. There are times when I find it difficult to differentiate between reality and my inner world”.
“Yes, my name is Monique De Wael, but I have wanted to forget it since I was four years old,” she confessed.
Despite Defonseca’s claims that she believed the story to be true at the time of publishing, a judge has now ruled she must repay the £13.3m she was awarded.
“The falsity of the story is undisputed,” he said. “Whether Defonseca’s belief was reasonable or not, the introduction in evidence of the actual facts of her history at the trial underlying Mt. Ivy I could have made a significant difference in the jury’s deliberations.”