'Wolf woman' invents Holocaust survival tale
By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels
A woman's best-selling account of how she lost her parents to the Holocaust and survived by living with wolves in the forests of Europe has been exposed as a fabrication.
"She was given a new name, a new home, and forced into a new religion," claims publicity for her book.
Knowing only that her parents had "gone East", the young Misha sets out to find them equipped only with a tiny compass.
After crossing Belgium, Germany and Poland alone on foot, close to starvation in a vast forest, she was adopted by a family of wolves.
Mrs Defonseca's book became a runaway bestseller after its publication in Italy and France and has made her a millionaire.
But suspicions were aroused in Belgium's Jewish community and some of her old school friends from the Anderlecht district of Brussels recognised her.
They insisted that she was born and raised a Catholic by the De Wael family and lived with her grandfather after her parents were deported.
"She belonged to a very good family and lived in the most beautiful house on the street," one former friend told La Meuse newspaper.
"Monique was always 'special'. She wanted to be the 'star' where ever she went."
Despite growing evidence in recent weeks of inconsistencies in her story, including a birth certificate showing she was not Jewish, Mrs Donfonseca insisted she was telling the truth until she released her statement.
At the film's premiere in France last month she even turned up with a little compass, "my most precious talisman", which she said had helped her find her way on her journey east through the forests of occupied Europe.
Vera Belmont, the director of the French film "Survivre avec les Loups" has taken the revelations well.
Her spokeswoman said: "The movie is a fiction from the book. No matter if it's true or not - she believes it is, anyway - she just thinks it's a beautiful story."
Jane Daniel, the publisher Mrs Defonseca claims persuaded her to write the book, is less forgiving after being sued by the author in a breach of contract case for £11 million.
She now intends to challenge the judgment on the grounds that Mrs Defonseca's original contract had warranted the truth of the story.
Now, 11 years after publishing her memoir and almost two decades since she went public with her story, Defonseca has admitted that she is actually Monique De Wael, the orphaned daughter of two Catholic members of the Belgian resistance. Yesterday, through her lawyer, she released a statement to the Brussels newspaper Le Soir. The story of Misha, she said, "is not actual reality, but was my reality, my way of surviving."
Why did people take her seriously for so long? Raising questions about the authenticity of someone's Holocaust testimony, however implausible it seems, is a joyless task and one that puts you in unsavory company. In this case, however, Misha's story so strained credulity that historian Debórah Dwork (Children With a Star) and literary scholar Lawrence L. Langer (Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory) raised questions about the book even before it had been published. Both had been asked to blurb Misha, and both warned the publisher that Defonseca's story was a fantasy.