|Congratulations to Our Winners
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Gina Hudson Kate Johnson
Cheri Black Dennis Bussey
Emily Wise Corey Condit
Eleven years after the publication of her best-selling Holocaust
memoir - a heartwarming tale of a small Jewish girl trekking across
Europe and living with wolves - the Massachusetts author
yesterday admitted the whole story was a hoax.
In a statement issued by her Belgian lawyer, Misha Defonseca of
Dudley, whose book, "Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years,"
has been translated into 18 languages and is the basis for a new
French movie, "Survivre avec les Loups" ("Surviving With the
Wolves"), confessed that she is not Jewish and that she spent the
war safely in Brussels.
pseudonym "Monique de Wael" (the author's real name). When this family treats her
cruelly, Misha goes off in search of her parents, walking through Europe and living by
stealing food, clothing and shoes. At a time when she faces starvation in a forest, she is
adopted by wolves, becoming a feral child. Protected by the pack, she survives by
eating offal and worms. All in all, she treks over 1,900 miles through Europe, from
Belgium to the Ukraine, through the Balkans and Germany and Poland (where she
sneaks in and out of the Warsaw Ghetto), to Italy by boat and back to Belgium through
France. Before the war is over, Misha has taken human life to survive, stabbing to
death with a pocket knife a rapist German Nazi soldier who attacks her.
The story of Misha Defonseca's memoir is incredible. The first thing that struck me
was how readily some world renowned holocaust experts accepted Misha’s outlandish
account. I mean, she apparently claimed to have been taken in and protected by a pack
of wolves during her trek across Europe. A pack of wolves! Despite some vocal
skeptics and poor domestic sales numbers, Misha parlayed her credibility into book
deals for international editions and, as you noted, a French film. It’s understandable
that most people are uncomfortable questioning those who claim to be Holocaust
survivors. I applaud Sharon Sergeant and her team for the careful and meticulous
work they did in unmasking Misha.
The enormous judgment that she and her ghost-writer won against her American
publisher ($33 million!) for its failure to publicize the book and hiding profits is also an
incredible sub-plot. Without knowing the facts of the case, it is unclear how exposing
the fraud at this time will affect the judgment.
It's surprising how many memoirs have recently been exposed as fictional (see James
Frey, Margaret Seltzer, J.T. LeRoy/Laura Albert, and especially Binjamin Wilkomirski a.
k.a. Bruno Doessekker). Thanks for the challenging quiz! Justin Campoli
ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING BASED ON WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO PEOPLE
IN THE HOLOCAUST! I have so much family I am researching that were victims and
survivors that this really gets to me! People can be so crass! Vicki Hilb
Raised by wolves?? Good grief, why would anyone believe that? P.T.Barnum was
right - actually more than one sucker born each minute! Pamela Hoffman
Though since [Sharon] suggested the quiz, perhaps you were looking for someone else,
though no other names I came across were credited as genealogists. Historian Deborah
Dwork and literary scholar Lawrence Langer challenged her story, and her own
publisher Jane Daniel spent some time debunking the story she help spread. Crazy.
Well. Well. Well. I'm just proud by association. Kudos to you and all the "information
seekers" in this instance. Mary Osmar
Very interesting...I didn't know anything about this. Mary South
Now let's see - one of the primary genealogists was with Ancestral Manor - Ms. Sharon
Sergeant. She was helped by Maureen Tayor, I believe. Oh, yes, Ms. Colleen
Fitzpatrick was also instrumental in the forensic genealogy on exposing this hoax.
Good work, Colleen. Marty Guidry
Wow, what a story. Tip o' the cap to Ms. Sergeant. Greg Webster
I wish I could find the photo you give us to confirm my answer but I presume the real
name of the girl is Monique De Wael. As I am typing this I confirmed my answer
because the genealogist listed in the article I read was Sharon Sergeant and since she
suggested the quiz I figure that confirms I am on the right track. Milene Rawlinson
I knew about how old she is because I had a little hat like hers when I was a child.
YOU JUST CAN'T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ!!!! Judy Pfaff
Very very strange. When I first heard about this book I didn't believe the wolf bit.
(And I've read The Jungle Book, all the Bomba the Jungle Boys, and all the Tarzans!)
By the late 1980s, de Wael was living in Massachusetts in the
United States under the name of "Misha Defonseca". She was
telling the fictional story of Misha to people as her own real life,
including presenting it to the congregation of a Holliston synagogue
on Holocaust Memorial Day as her own experience of the
The fictional "Misha" is eight when her parents were taken away
(unlike de Wael, who was four.) Before their deportation, her
parents place her with a Catholic family, who give her the
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|Answer to Quiz #153 - March 30, 2008
|How Eric Solved the Puzzle
|I googled “february 2008 bestseller film fraud”
and found the answer quickly. It was only
after locating the site and sending in the
answer that I noticed Sharon Sargent’s name
under the photo. Sneaky! I would not have
expected the credit also to be an answer.
The 1997 book was the center of a multimillion-dollar legal battle pitting Defonseca and
her coauthor, Vera Lee of Newton, against publisher Jane Daniel of Gloucester. The
book was a bestseller in Europe and Canada, and attracted attention from Walt Disney
Co. and Oprah Winfrey, but it sold few copies in the United States, largely because the
marketing stopped after the authors sued.
Daniel's imprint, Mt. Ivy Press, was a one-woman operation when she met Defonseca
in the mid-1990s, heard her story, and suggested that she write a book. In 2001, a
|Where the Photo Was Taken
A Note from the Quizmaster General
Middlesex Superior Court jury issued a $7.5 million
breach-of-contract judgment against Daniel after Defonseca
and Lee alleged that she had failed to publicize the book as
promised and had hidden profits. The judge in the case
tripled the damages to $22.5 million, and an appeals court
upheld the verdict in 2005.
Yesterday's confession follows a week of intense publicity in
French and Belgian media, prompted by disclosure of
documents unearthed by Waltham-based genealogical
researcher Sharon Sergeant showing that Monique De Wael
(Defonseca's real maiden name) was baptized in a Brussels
|Four Documents that led to Misha's confession
Left to right: Misha's baptismal record, Misha's first grade school record,
the deed to Misha's house, and Misha's taxpayer ID card.
Find out more. Click here.
|This little girl is the subject of a bestseller and film
which was exposed as a fraud in February 2008.
1. What is her real name?
2. Name one of the forensic genealogists who exposed her.
|The Scam - What Happened Next
|Thanks to Sharon Sergeant for suggesting this quiz.
her real date of
birth and her
Catholic church in September 1937 and that she was enrolled in a Brussels primary
school in 1943-44. The researcher also discovered that Defonseca's parents, Robert
and Josephine De Wael, were members of the Belgian resistance and were arrested and
executed by the Nazis.
In her statement, approximately translated from the French, Defonseca said: "Yes, my
name is Monique De Wael, but I have wanted to forget it since I was 4 years old. My
parents were arrested and I was taken in by my grandfather, Ernest De Wael, and my
uncle, Maurice De Wael. I was called 'daughter of a traitor' because my father was
suspected of having spoken under torture in the prison of Saint-Gilles. Ever since I can
remember, I felt Jewish. . . . There are times when I find it difficult to differentiate
between reality and my inner world. The story in the book is mine. It is not the actual
reality - it was my reality, my way of surviving. At first, I did not want to publish it,
but then I was convinced by Jane Daniel. I ask forgiveness from all those who feel
In the book, 6-year-old Misha is rescued at school in 1941 when her parents are
arrested and deported. She is spirited away to the De Wael family and given a new
I think the building behind them is the Brussels-Nord station. (In Flemish it would be
Brussels-Noord). It seems to be a taller building with a shorter building to the right next
to it - perhaps it is the two-story front of the train station that connects the station's
two three-story towers.
They are facing into the sun - so that they have to be walking in a southeast direction,
to get their shadows to work out. Note that the train station is facing the same way
they are - into the sun, so that the facade must be towards the southeast. The station
tower has to be the one on the left corner of the building, since the two-story extension
is to the right in the picture. The tower does not seem to be centered with respect to
the street to me, but offset slightly to the left.
|1937 St Gertrude's Parish, Etterbeek,
Belgium Baptismal Register Extract:
Monique Ernestine Josephine De
Wael; parents Robert Henri Ernest
De Wael and Josephine Germaine
Barbe Donvil residing at rue Floris
58, Schaerbeek, but originally from
Anderlecht; godfather Ernest De
Wael (paternal grandfather);
godmother Josephine Dillemans
name, Monique. Unhappy with her host family, she runs away in hopes of finding her
parents. Over the next four years she wanders alone across Germany, Poland, Ukraine,
Romania, Yugoslavia, across the Adriatic Sea by boat to Italy, then through Italy across
the Alps to France and back to Belgium. Along the way, she is sheltered by packs of
wolves, kills a German soldier, witnesses an eastbound freight train full of Jews,
wanders into the Warsaw Ghetto, and escapes. A 2001 story in The Boston Globe
raised questions about the book's veracity, but Defonseca insisted that it was all true.
"I am flabbergasted," Daniel said yesterday. "It's like something from heaven. I feel like
the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders." She said she hopes to
|Reaction of the World Press to Misha's Hoax
|Looking at a map of modern Brussels,
the closest street I could find was
Dupontstraat (Rue Dupont or Dupont
Street). Click here to see the Google
map of Brussels train stations. "G" is the
location of the Brussels-Nord station. Of
course, this is a modern map, and the
train station was remodeled. According
to the Wikipedia article, "In 1952 a new
Brussels-North station was built to link
with the North-South Connection. The
on it with some big letters. (Or maybe the sign is on a
building in front of the movie marquee and it just looks like
they are together.)
Even though the old station was torn down and replaced in
1952, I don't think the street layout would have changed,
nor the location of the tracks. I think Misha and her
grandmother were photographed near the corner of
Dupontstraat and either Groenstraat (Rue Verte) or
old station was razed in 1955".
The street is busy with shops and stores on each side. In the background there are two
traffic signs. One is a red circle with a bar through the center. There is writing around
the rim of this sign we have not been able to read. The second is higher on the
lamppost in front of it - we have had a little success at reading this one, but I don't
remember what we concluded from it. On the right in the background, between the
awning and the sign on the lamp post, there seems to be a movie marquee with a sign
challenge the Middlesex judgment on grounds that the author's
original contract had warranted the truth of the story, and that
therefore the publisher had been defrauded before the book was
Reached yesterday, Defonseca's husband, Maurice, said his
wife would not come to the phone, and he referred all questions
to the Brussels lawyer. Vera Lee's lawyer did not respond to a
request for comment.
|Compare image of
to building in
background of picture.
|Comments from Our Readers
|1. Misha Defonseca's real name is Monique DeWael.
2. Sharon Sergeant was the forensic genealogist who exposed her with the help
of Colleen Fitzpatrick and Maureen Taylor (www.photodetective.com).
It is difficult to be sure of de Wael's true history, since it was
obscured for so long behind the false story de Wael told. However,
at least a fragmentary version can be put together from
documentation turned up by researchers and from de Wael's own
Monique de Wael was born in 1937 in Etterbeek, Belgium to Robert
De Wael and Josephine Donvil. The exact date is given differently by
different sources: May 12 (according to a baptismal record) or
September 2 (according to records from the school Monique attended in the year
1943-44.) Her family was not Jewish but Catholic, and her parents were members of
the Belgian resistance, which led to them being arrested by the Nazis on September 23,
1941. Nazi records indicate that Robert de Wael was executed on May 3 or 4 of 1944,
and Donvil died sometime between February 1 and December 31 of 1945.
According to de Wael's February 2008 statement, her
guardianship went first to her grandfather Ernest de Wael,
and then to her uncle Maurice de Wael. De Wael says that
other than her grandfather, those who took her in treated
her badly, including calling her "the traitor's daughter"
because her father was suspected of having given
information under torture in St. Gilles prison. She remained with her uncle's family, and
did not go off in search of her missing parents as "Misha" did, but according to her
statement, this time with her uncle's family was when she began to "feel Jewish" and to
fantasize about going off with the wolves.
|Misha's 1943 primary school
registration confirmed the names
of her parents.
Six years later, in the same
neighbornhood where her parents
lived when she was born, Monique
De Wael, daughter of Robert De
Wael, employee of the Schaerbeek
town administration and Marguerite
Levy begins attending primary
school No. 2 in Etterbeek. Classmate
Marguerite is the younger sister of
Monique's first husband Morris Levy.
|The deed to Misha's house
November 20, 1985
gave clues to Misha's real name.
Deed to her house registered on
November 20, 1985, which indicates
that the property was held by
does not appear in
the American or
|editions of the book, but does appear
on the baptismal record from
|Taxpayer ID Card attached to a
joint bank account of Misha and
her husband gave her name, date
and place of birth.
Misha signed her
name as Monique
on August 6, 1998.
She states her date
of birth as
place of birth as
|"Etterbeek, Belgium" and her mother's
maiden name as "Donville".
A spokeswoman for Vera Belmont, the French director of "Survivre avec les Loups,"
said in an e-mail: "Vera is not making any comment. Her 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
|Hear Sharon Sergeant speak on how she discovered Misha de Fonseca's true
identity at the Massachusetts Genealogical Seminar
on April 26th 2008 at Bentley College in Waltham, MA.
For more info, see http://www.massgencouncil.com/