The 'Memoir' is Fiction

A woman tells a story of her traumatic childhood adventures living with wolves after the Nazis killed her parents. A publisher hears the story in a synagogue and persuades the woman to write a book. She gets her a ghost writer. The book succeeds and gets translated into 18 languages and made into a movie, making the woman and her publisher rich. Whoopie!

A Jewish historian looking into the amazing story discovers that the woman made it all up. The woman was pretending to be Jewish. She pretended to be a homeless and crafty waif, but she really wasn't homeless. Who can say how crafty she was, but it's unlikely that even a very crafty child could survive four years and 1900 miles in a wolf pack. Just a guess. Unfortunately, the sympathy, fame and fortune she garnered along the publishing way was real. Many people were scammed out of real money to buy the book and see the movie, but they will not get their real money back. No, it's too late for that. However, the real Jewish publisher and the pretend Jewish author are going to fight over the money. Round two. See you in court.
A Belgian writer has admitted that she made up her best-selling "memoir" depicting how, as a Jewish child, she lived with a pack of wolves in the woods during the Holocaust, her lawyers said Friday.

Misha Defonseca's book, "Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years," was translated into 18 languages and made into a feature film in France.

Her two Brussels-based lawyers, siblings Nathalie and Marc Uyttendaele, said the author acknowledged her story was not autobiographical and that she did not trek 1,900 miles as a child across Europe with a pack of wolves in search of her deported parents during World War II.

"I ask forgiveness to all who felt betrayed," Defonseca said, according to a written statement the lawyers gave to The Associated Press.

Defonseca, 71, now lives in Dudley, Massachusetts. Her husband, Maurice, told The Boston Globe on Thursday that she would not comment.

Defonseca wrote in her book that Nazis seized her parents when she was a child, forcing her to wander the forests and villages of Europe alone for four years. She claimed she found herself trapped in the Warsaw ghetto, killed a Nazi soldier in self-defense and was adopted by a pack of wolves that protected her.

In the statement, Defonseca acknowledged the story she wrote was a fantasy and that she never fled her home in Brussels during the war to find her parents.

Here comes her explanation.

Defonseca says her real name is Monique De Wael and that her parents were arrested and killed by Nazis as Belgian resistance fighters, the statement said.

"This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving," the statement said.

"I ask forgiveness to all who felt betrayed. I beg you to put yourself in my place, of a 4-year-old girl who was very lost," the statement said.

The statement said her parents were arrested when she was 4 and she was taken care of by her grandfather and uncle. She said she was poorly treated by her adopted family, called a "daughter of a traitor" because of her parents' role in the resistance, which she said led her to "feel Jewish."

She said there were moments when she "found it difficult to differentiate between what was real and what was part of my imagination."

Nathalie Uyttendaele said she and her brother contacted the author last weekend to show her material discovered by Belgian daily Le Soir, which questioned her story.

"We gave her this information and it was very difficult. She was confronted with a reality that is different from what she has been living for 70 years," Nathalie Uyttendaele said.

Pressure on the author to defend the accuracy of her book had grown in recent weeks.

"I'm not an expert on relations between humans and wolves but I am a specialist of the persecution of Jews and they (Defonseca's family) can't be found in the archives," Belgian historian Maxime Steinberg told RTL television. "The De Wael family is not Jewish nor were they registered as Jewish."

Defonseca had been asked to write the book by U.S. publisher Jane Daniel in the 1990s, after Daniel heard the writer tell the story in a Massachusetts synagogue.

Daniel and Defonseca fell out over profits received from the best-selling book, which led to a lawsuit. In 2005, a Boston court ordered Daniel to pay Defonseca and her ghost writer Vera Lee $22.5 million.

Lee, of Newton, Massachusetts, said she was shocked to hear Defonseca made up the story.

"She always maintained that this was truth as she recalled it, and I trusted that that was the case," Lee said.

Defonseca's lawyers said Daniel has not yet paid the court-ordered sum.

Daniel said Friday she would try to get the judgment overturned. She said she could not fully research Defonseca's story before it was published because the woman claimed she did not know her parents' names, her birthday or where she was born.

"There was nothing to go on to research," she said.

I'm sure there lies some deep psychological significance to all this. I mean, is it a crime to imitate a Jewish survivor of the holocaust so successfully or is it just personally very offensive? I do wonder how the courts will sort it all out.

Meanwhile, here's what I think about offensive artistic license.

In the movie The Titanic, there are a many horrible scenes as the boat is sinking. Down in steerage where the people were locked in, the movie shows a mother praying with her small children before they all die. I think she was Catholic because I recall she was saying the Our Father or the Hail Mary. It also shows an elderly couple lying on their bed waiting to die. Later the movie shows mothers and babies floating in the water with their life jackets on, frozen to death.

These scenes, based on real events, made me feel that it was wrong to make the movie an entertainment blockbuster romance. Teenagers watched it over and over again to see Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, and I was horrified at their ability to blithely endure those scenes as passage to the romantic excitement of Part II.

After I saw the movie once, I knew I never wanted to see it again. I don't need to. I resent that movie and the way it made James Cameron and other people rich. I resent how it used the suffering of real people, even if the scenes are fictionalized, as a dramatic accoutrement to an essentially romantic storyline. Those scenes burned into my brain the horrible deaths and hopelessness that real people suffered. The romance can never compensate for the painful reality that innocent people were locked in the bowels of the ship to allow the wealthy a chance to survive. For me, that is the story. That's how it always is with me. I can't get past the injustice.

But all this time I have yet to meet another person who felt this way about that movie. People accept it for what it is: entertainment. Was it a crime for James Cameron to make The Titanic? Shall I sue him on behalf of the poor dead people who went to a watery grave, and who knew they would die trapped like rats, praying to God for mercy and holding onto each other as the ice water overcame them? Shall I sue him because he caused me emotional distress by making entertainment out of what rightfully deserves to be a solemn documentary? Of course not. He is free to do what he will, and I am free to consider him a shit for it, which I do. That's all the power I have, but it is enough for me.

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