In the digital age, one joke has become a threadbare cliché: “It’s on the internet, so it must be true.” However, recent investigations into supposedly true stories have revealed that readers should have been practicing wary skepticism long before the internet democratized the dissemination of information. For example, in April 2021 we learned that America’s sweetheart conman Frank Abagnale lied to the whole world with his 1980 memoir “Catch Me If You Can,” which was turned into the hit 2002 film of the same name.
But while we can all let Abagnale off the hook for fooling us all (the movie is simply too fun to be angry with him), other similar hoaxes are not as forgivable. Take the case of Belgian author Misha Defonseca. According to The Daily Beast, her daring tale of survival during the Holocaust, which she told in her 1997 book “Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years,” was all an outrageous fiction (of which readers really should have been more skeptical of from the get-go). In her book, Defonseca — whose real name is Monique de Wael — claimed that she set out to find her parents after they were taken by Nazis when she was 7 years old. She wrote that she survived on bugs and offal during her alleged 1,900-mile journey. She claimed to have killed a Nazi soldier trying to rape a young girl. Eventually, she somehow pulled a Mowgli and was “adopted” by a pack of wolves. If her story sounds too wild to be true, that’s because it absolutely was.
Discredited writer Misha Fonseca now lives as a social pariah
The truth about Defonseca’s book came to light in 2008 after a Belgian journalist took a deeper look into her story. It turns out that her parents really were imprisoned by the Nazis, but that’s about it. Most strikingly, the investigation found that the author isn’t even Jewish. She was baptized a Catholic. She didn’t really live with wolves or kill a Nazi. She wasn’t even born the year she claimed to have been in the book. It was all a ruse, and one that paid off handsomely for Defonseca, at first. She won $22.5 million from a lawsuit that found that her publisher had been keeping overseas royalties from the book in an offshore shell company. But as The Guardian reports, Defonseca was ordered to return the money in 2014.
If she was hoping to fade away into obscurity, Misha Defonseca will begrudgingly have to wait for the world to forget. For now her ignominy is the subject of the documentary “Misha and the Wolves,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2021. After trying to turn the extreme pain and suffering of others into her own personal cash cow, the disgraced writer is currently living as a pariah, and will likely continue as such for some time. “Misha and the Wolves” begins streaming worldwide on Netflix on August 11.
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