French literati put brave face on faked Belgian book

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Author of the autobiography, 70-year old Misha Defonseca, made the memoir up - and is in fact not even Jewish.

   PARIS, March 3, 2008  - The duped French book-editor and film-producer
of a faked Belgian Holocaust memoir scrambled Friday to put a brave face on
the deception, which saw the best-selling book made into the movie "Surviving
With Wolves."
   The book of the same name recounted the incredible tale of a young Jewish
girl whose parents were deported from Brussels by the Nazis during World War
II and who then crossed Europe with a wild wolf pack who had adopted her.
   But a Belgian newspaper revealed on Thursday that the author of the
original autobiography, 70-year old Misha Defonseca, had made the memoir up --
and was in fact not even Jewish.
   Now both the book is likely to be re-classified as fiction and the movie
will have to have the phrase "Based on a true story" removed from its credits.
   The book's French editor, Bernard Fixot, told RTL radio station his
publishing house had had to hold an emergency meeting on Friday and that the
autobiography was now effectively "a novel."
   "She will pay a very heavy price for this. I myself am slightly culpable
for not having checked everything was true. If I don't believe something, I
don't publish it," Fixot, who owns the global rights to the book, said.
   "This was always a beautiful story, but now it is a novel. Obviously, it is
cheating the readers to say it is a true story. The book's status has changed."
   The book had already been made into a movie which hit French cinema screens
in January. Its producer, Vera Belmont, said she felt a mixture of anger and
pity for the writer.
   "I am a little annoyed," she told AFP, "But she concocted this tale in
order to stop herself falling apart. So I have a little bit of pity in my
heart for her."
   Belmont said that whilst she had had occasional doubts about Defonseca's
claims to have been adopted by wild wolves in a 3,000 kilometre (1,860 miles)
journey across Belgium, Germany and Poland, she had never suspected the author was not Jewish.
   "It is difficult enough being Jewish, so not for one second did I suspect
that anyone voluntarily take on this burden," she said.
   "As for the rest of it, it reminds me of all children, who have their true
memory, but in which the real and the imagined is intermingled."
   But she added that even if she had known the truth, she would still have
made the film. "It spoke to me as a Jew because I cannot tackle this era (the
Holocaust) head-on. There is too much grief."
   On Thursday the Belgian daily Le Soir exposed Defonseca's deception.
Defonseca, who lives in the US, and whose real name is Minique de Wael, said
that after her parents were seized in Brussels, she lived with first her
grandfather and then an uncle.
   "This book is a story, it's my story. It is not the true reality but it is
my reality, my way of surviving.
   "I ask for forgiveness for all those who feel betrayed but I ask them to
put themselves in the place of a small girl of four years old who lost
everything and who has to survive."
   "Surviving With Wolves" now looks set to join a short but notorious list of
other literary fakes, such as the so-called Hitler Diaries, which fooled both
Stern magazine and the Sunday Times in the 1980s.


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