WOBURN, MASS. (CN) – A bogus “Holocaust survivor” made up her story from whole cloth to win a $33 million judgment concerning her ghostwritten book, “Mischa: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years,” says publisher Mt. Ivy Press, in suing the author and her law firm. The publisher says Monique DeWael aka Misha Defonseca has admitted fabricating the story that she was twice adopted by wolves as she walked 3,000 miles across Europe hiding from the Nazis in a trek that began when she was 7.
In fact, says the book’s editor, Jane Daniel, the real father of Defonseca was a Nazi collaborator, she was not born Jewish, and Defonseca fabricated her entire story for unjust profit and committed perjury to win the $33 million.
Daniel founded Mt. Ivy Press in 1993 and was its publisher and editor. She says that in the course of her work she met Defonseca, who told her that Nazis had arrested her parents in Belgium in 1941, and that she was then put in a foster home with a false identity, Monique DeWael, age 4, to hide her from the Nazis.
Daniel says Defonseca told her that she did not know her given name, nor her date of birth, nor her birth place, though she believed she was born in Poland. Daniel says Defonseca told her that a man she referred to as her grandfather, Ernest De Wael, “gave her a tiny compass, and showed her a map of Europe,” which she used during a 4-year, 3,000-mile trek “across the European theater of war, hiding in forests where twice she was befriended by wolves.”
Daniel says she offered to publish Defonseca’s story as an autobiography, and hired Vera Lee – also a defendant in this case – to ghostwrite it. Defonseca, Lee and Mt. Ivy Press signed a publishing agreement in 1995.
Daniel says Defonseca’s story could not be substantiated in normal ways because of loss of records, and Defonseca’s claim that she did not know her original, Jewish surname, nor her place or date of birth. Daniel says she sent the manuscript to Holocaust experts, Jewish scholars and wolf experts for review – including Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel – and that they offered “enthusiastic endorsements.” She published the book in 1997. A French edition quickly followed: “Surivre avec les Loups.”
In 1997, Lee sued Daniel and Defonseca in Middlesex Superior Court, Boston, alleging breach of contract. Defonseca, representing herself, filed a counterclaim against Lee and a cross claim against Daniel and Mt. Ivy, alleging, among other things, breach of contract.
Daniel claims Defonseca committed perjury in these claims, that among the lies she told were that her book was true, and that “this was only the tip of the iceberg with respect to deceit, fraud, and misrepresentation which Defonseca would present to the Court, in pleading form, prior to retaining counsel. …
“After the appearance of counsel on her behalf, on or about March 11, 1999, Defonseca continued to fuel a continuous and unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system’s ability to impartially adjudicate the matter. This included perjured testimony at her deposition, and at trial.”
During trial in Middlesex Superior Court, in August 2001, the book was “offered and accepted into evidence [though it] was wholly and entirely perjurious,” Daniel says. “The impact that Defonseca’s status as a Holocaust survivor would have on the jury was not lost on Defonseca’s counsel, Ramona Hamlin,” Daniel ads. However, “As is now known, and acknowledged by Defonseca, the evidence of her reported history as a Holocaust survivor, and the corresponding persuasive argument made by her counsel at trial were created from whole cloth and contained not one granule of truth.”
The jury found for Defonseca on Aug. 20, 2001, and awarded her $11 million, which the court trebled. The jury also granted all movie, TV and dramatic rights to Defonseca, and awarded Mt. Ivy’s copyright to Defonseca and Lee, this claim states.
Daniel appealed, claiming the state claims were pre-empted by federal law, but the Appeals Court of Massachusetts affirmed judgment in May 2005.
During the appeal, Daniel says, she “continued to look for concrete evidence, one way or another, regarding the truthfulness of the Defonseca.” Eventually, with the help of genealogists, Daniel says, she discovered – in 2006 and afterward – proof that toppled Defonseca’s house of cards.
She claims she found a Middlesex Savings bank account in which Defonseca listed her birthdate – May 12, 1937 – and her birthplace – Etterbeek, Belgium – and her mother’s maiden name, Donville.
Daniel claims that in the course of writing her own book about this case, she sought help on the Internet, and that a forensic genealogist contacted her because of the genealogist’s interest in the book, which had been translated into 18 languages and made into a French movie.
Daniel claims that she and the genealogist found Defonseca’s baptismal records in Etterbeek, Belgium, showing that Defonseca was born Monica Ernestine Josephine DeWael, daughter of Robert Henri Ernest DeWael and Josephine Germaine Barbe Donville. Daniel says they located elementary school records that showed Monique DeWael had been a student in the Schaerbeek neighborhood, near her family’s home in Brussels, in September 1943, “right in the middle of her reported 3,000 mile journey.” She claims that “the Belgian press was [then] able to uncover even ore evidence of Defonseca’s fraud.”
On March 3 this year, Daniel says, Belgium’s leading newspaper, Le Soir, “published an account in which it was revealed that Defonseca’s real father, Robert DeWael, had collaborated with the Nazis and turned over to them members of the Belgium resistance.
“Confronted with the irrefutable evidence, Defonseca acknowledged, for the first time, in a statement dated Feb. 28, 2008, that the memoir was a hoax,” this claim states. “In her statement, approximately translated from the French, and reported in the Boston Globe on Feb. 28, 2008, Defonseca acknowledged that every essential element of her autobiography is false, that her testimony at the trial was perjured and that every document she filed with the Court when acting as her own counsel, was intended to mislead the Court and the jury.”