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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Publisher Can Sue Over Holocaust Memoir Hoax

(CN) - A publishing company can sue a Belgian woman who wrote a bogus memoir about surviving the Holocaust and later won millions of dollars from the publishing company, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals ruled.

In "Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years," Misha Defonseca describes how she witnessed the Nazis abduct her parents, traveled the European countryside alone for 4 years, escaped the Warsaw ghetto, and was fed and protected by wolves.

Then the woman who published Defonseca's story made a startling discovery: It was a lie.

Mt. Ivy Press founder Jane Daniel began unraveling the hoax after she lost a $32.4 million judgment over the publishing, marketing and distribution of the memoir to Defonseca and co-author Verna Lee, who translated Defonseca's tale from French to English.

Daniel traveled to Belgium, and Catholic baptismal records led her to the discovery that Defonseca was born Monica Ernestine Josephine De Wael in 1937.

In 1943, while "Misha" was fleeing the Nazis and huddling with wolves, Daniel discovered that De Wael was enrolled in a Brussels elementary school.

Daniel sued for relief from the authors' previous court victory, and the defendants did not dispute Defonseca's confessions about the hoax to media outlets.

The trial court dismissed Daniel's lawsuit for exceeding the time limitations, but the appellate court reversed the decision and sent the fraud case to trial.

"We are satisfied that, accepting the allegations of the complaint as true and viewing Defonseca's misconduct as a whole, which included not just one or two instances of false testimony, but an entire case buttressed by falsehoods, the plaintiffs have sufficiently stated a claim of fraud on the court.," Associate Justice Gabrielle Wolohojian wrote for the court.

Lee, the translator, can keep $9.9 million court award, according to the ruling.

"The allegations indicate that Lee was removed from the project before its completion," Wolohojian wrote. "There is also no allegation that Lee made any false statements in the course of the litigation, whether during discovery or trial."

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