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the take

‘Misha’: Totally Impossible Memoir Revealed to Be False


Over on Slate, Blake Eskin goes into fascinating detail on the case of Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, a 1997 book by Misha Defonseca, in which the author — who grew up in Belgium during World War II — claimed that she fled Brussels at the age of 7 and lived with wolves in the forests of Europe for months. Oh, and also she claimed she sneaked into — and out of — the Warsaw ghetto and killed a Nazi who tried to rape her. Despite all these hilariously implausible details, Defonseca maintained that her story was true, even as it sold tens of thousands of copies in Europe. (In America, the book never hit it that big, selling about 5,000 copies.) Eskin implies that one reason Defonseca went mostly unchallenged in the ten years since her memoir was published is that there's not much of a percentage in debunking Holocaust memoirs: "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," he writes, and he should know, as it was Eskin who, in 2002, famously debunked Binjamin Wilkomirski's Fragments.

In the end, it was a movie that brought the spotlight onto the unlikelihood of Defonseca's story. Survivre Avec les Loups was released last month in France, and the film's claims — as the trailer above suggests, the film is "d'apres l'histoire vraie de Misha Defonseca" — caused researchers to investigate Defonseca's histoire vraie. Turns out that not only did she not live in the woods with wolves for months, she's not even Jewish, although her parents, resistance fighters, were killed by the Nazis. Even someone whose French petered out in high school, though, will watch the trailer and say, "Duh." This story is the fakiest fake we've ever heard. Didn't anyone at any of those European publishers, or the French film company, scratch his head, even for a second?

Crying Wolf [Slate]