Author of fabricated Holocaust memoir wins legal fight

  • Ruling against publisher stands

Misha Defonseca’s 1997 book, “Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years,” was translated into 18 languages, made into a feature film in France, and drew interest from the Walt Disney Co. and Oprah Winfrey.

After Defonseca admitted earlier this year that she had made up the story, her former publisher, Jane Daniel, sued to try to overturn a $32.4 million court judgment Defonseca and her ghost writer, Vera Lee, won against her in an earlier fight over profits.

Daniel argued that because the story was false, Defonseca “perpetrated a hoax” on the trial judge and the jury.

But this week, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Timothy Feeley threw out Daniel’s lawsuit because she did not file it within a one-year statute of limitations.

The judge said that the genuineness of the memoir was not an issue in the earlier court battle between Defonseca and Daniel. Instead, the case was about claims of violations of the contract between the authors and the publisher, Feeley said.

“Defonseca’s fraud, misrepresentations, and misconduct did not go to the heart of the case,” he said in his written ruling, filed Tuesday.

Daniel said the jury at the 2001 trial would not have issued a verdict against her if they had known that Defonseca made up the story.

Defonseca, 71, of Dudley, acknowledged in February that she never lived with wolves to escape the Nazis, never killed a German soldier in self-defense, and never walked 3,000 miles across Europe in search of her parents. She also admitted that she isn’t even Jewish. She said that her book was a fantasy that she kept repeating.

“The poor, poor Holocaust survivor and the evil publisher who had victimized her — that’s how it was characterized in the trial, and that’s what’s being allowed to stand,” Daniel said yesterday.

“This decision is discounting that that had an all-pervasive effect on the outcome of the trial,” she said.

Neither Defonseca nor Lee could immediately be reached for comment yesterday.

Lee’s attorney, Frank Frisoli, said he was not surprised by the judge’s decision. “I did not see any merit to the action that was filed and apparently the court agreed,” he said.

In earlier interviews, Defonseca and Lee said the truth of the 1997 book had no bearing on the jury’s finding that Daniel cheated them out of profits.

“It has nothing to do with that,” Defonseca said in an August interview.

Daniel’s lawyer, Joseph Orlando, said he will appeal the ruling.

By Denise Lavoie
Associated Press / October 10, 2008