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.
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 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.
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.
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 beautiful story.”
Globe Staff / February 29, 2008