PARIS (Reuters) - The author of a bestselling autobiography that told the story of a young Jewish girl saved by wolves while hiding from the Nazis in wartime Europe has admitted that most of the story was made up.
Misha Defonseca’s book “Survivre avec les Loups” is known in English as “Misha, a Memoir of the Holocaust Years” and has just been made into a successful film.
She said she had invented an alternative story to make up for her painful real experiences.
“It’s true, I have always recounted to myself a life, another life, a life that cut me off from my family, a life far from the men I hated,” she told the daily Le Figaro in an interview published on Friday.
Defonseca’s book told the story of a 7-year-old Belgian Jewish girl who journeys across Europe after her parents were arrested by the Nazis during World War Two.
For much of the time she sleeps in forests, fed and protected by wolves, like Rudyard Kipling’s character Mowgli in “The Jungle Book.”
Doubts over her story emerged recently and she has been involved in a long-running dispute with her publisher over royalties and the marketing of the book.
Defonseca, who said her real name is Monique Dewael, was four years old when her father was arrested by the Nazis in Belgium and she was brought up by relatives.
But critics have said that, contrary to the account in her book, her family was not Jewish and her father was arrested as a member of the resistance.
She said she was called “the daughter of the traitor” because her father was suspected of having talked under torture.
“Apart from my grandfather, I hated the people who looked after me. They treated me badly, I always felt different,” she told Le Figaro, adding that she had “always felt Jewish.”
She said she had become fascinated by wolves as part of her fantasy escape from her real life.
“And I mixed everything up. There are times when it is difficult for me to tell the difference between what was reality and what my interior universe was. I ask pardon of all those who feel betrayed,” she said.
Defonseca accused her U.S. publisher, Jane Daniel, who was ordered by a court in 2005 to pay her $22 million, of pressuring her into writing a book she had never wanted to produce.
Her lawyer, Marc Uyttendaele, wrote to Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper saying while the book may be improbable in places, it was a “message of hope.”
“In other words, it matters little whether the account is real or partly allegorical, it is the product of absolute good faith, a cry of suffering and an act of courage. In that it deserves only respect,” he wrote.
Editing by Janet Lawrence