Once upon a time there was a little girl whose parents were killed by the Nazis in World War II. Abandoned, the girl takes to the woods, wandering the forests of Europe for four years. Along the way she was adopted by a pack of wolves who help protect from the Nazis. Does it sound a little fantastic? Well, it is. Author Misha Defonseca admitted that her Holocaust memoir is a hoax. Oh yes, she's not Jewish either. Of course all of this is after earning millions of dollars, having the book translated into eighteen languages and selling the film rights to it.
Reaction is not...kind. Sure, we all had plenty to say about James Frey. But Defonseca didn't just deceive us but she lied about the Holocaust. She exploited a tragic event. It feels like a betrayal.
From the blog Scruffy Immigrant Section
Apparently Defonseca's bestseller describes her flight across Europe as an eight year old befriended by a pack of wolves. Now, is it just me, or does that sound a little farfetched from the outset? Certainly, there are incredible tales of survival from the Holocaust, but being adopted by wolves is pretty out there by any standards; how closely did the publishers look into the history of this before snapping up the manuscript?
The point is when a talented writer weaves a story which touches a wide audience very deeply, and in which the emotional pull of the story rests on its objective "truth", that audience will inevitably feel betrayed if elements are proved to be falsified. Their emotional contact is lost, they feel suspicious of similar publications, and their belief in the cause or period of history in question is weakened.
The Wilkomirski Phenomenon
Not sure who Wilkomirski is? Binjamin Wilkomirski is another person who faked a Holocaust survivor identity and wrote a fake memoir.
Is this what people lie about to sell memoirs in Europe? From University Diaries
If you’re an American, you have to go with pretend drug addiction; a European background makes you eligible for the Holocaust.
Defonseca admits the story is hers and but that it was not her reality in her public statement. She also says that she didn't want to publish it but was convinced to by publisher Jane Daniel. Reaction to this piece of the statement is raising some hackles, including those of Kathleen at Parlez Moi Blog. From her post Misha Can't Stop Lying Even Now:
Not satisfied with the $22 million dollar judgement she got against Daniel, Misha continues to insist it's all Jane Daniel's fault that she lied about her experiences as a child in Europe, that she lied about her heritage, that she spoke in schools and universities all over this country and Europe about her invented experiences, that she sold the movie rights, that she re-wrote the book to eliminate her real name and sold it in Europe in 17 languages. It's all somebody else's fault --- certainly not hers!
Yes she sued the publisher. Even though the book was fiction and she hadn't wanted to publish it Defonseca and her co-writer Vera Lee (who by all accounts believed it to be a truthful story) sued Jane Daniel for breach of contract. They obviously did have a case for it as the court found that royalty payments had been withheld, money had been hidden and the publisher had failed to market the book. A judge then decided that Mt. Ivy, Daniel's publishing house owed Defonseca and Lee $32.4 million and reverted the rights to the book to Defonseca. Following the trial Daniel's set about to prove the memoir was a hoax and started a blog, Bestseller about the book and the case.
The Boston Globe calls the whole thing a den of lies. And really, it's hard to argue with that.
Defonseca created a pretend reality to deal with some traumatic childhood events. Her parents, part of the resistance movement, really were killed by the Nazi regime. She grew up with family whom she says treated her horribly. Should be be forgiven for deceiving the public? Wicked Boring doesn't think so.
The author is claiming that the fiction is all psychological, because she was scarred for life as a child and built her own fantasy world (and yadda, yadda).
Defonseca, in her seventies, is an elderly woman now. Should she be forgiven or treated kindly due to her age?
The author currently lives in Massachusetts and is 71 years old. I mention her age specifically because I know that we aren’t supposed to say anything negative about someone over the age of, say, 50, even if what they did would be considered a fraud on the public.
- Jane at Dear Author
Like HelenKay Dimon, I'm wary of memoirs these day.
I may be alone in this, but I think there are a few too many hitting the shelves right now. I know people like them. I get that reading about these folks’ lives can be cathartic or help you feel better about your slightly less messed-up childhood. I also understand that the constant parade of craziness combined with the fact a few of these supposed memoirs turned out to be fictional has soured me to the genre…at least for now.
What is your opinions on memoirs? Do the James Frey's and Misha Defonseca's of the publishing world make you shy away from memoirs? Do you find that Defonseca's deception worse than Frey's because it concerns the Holocaust?
More from entertainment