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Belgian author of Holocaust survival story admits it's a fake

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- A Belgian author admitted through her lawyer Friday that her best-selling tale of a Jewish child who lived with a pack of wolves in the woods during the Holocaust was fiction, not fact.
/ Source: WHDH-TV

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- A Belgian author admitted through her lawyer Friday that her best-selling tale of a Jewish child who lived with a pack of wolves in the woods during the Holocaust was fiction, not fact.

Her Brussels-based lawyer, Marc Uyttendaele, told Belgian and French media that author Misha Defonseca admitted she is not Jewish and did not trek 1,900 miles as a child across Europe with a pack of wolves in search of her deported parents during World War II.

Defonseca, who now lives in Dudley, Mass., has an unlisted number. Her husband, Maurice, told The Boston Globe on Thursday that she would not comment.

Her book, "Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years," was translated into 18 languages and made into a feature film in France. Defonseca said Nazis seized her parents when she was a child, forcing her to wander the forests and villages of Europe alone for four years.

She claimed she found herself trapped in a Warsaw ghetto, killed a Nazi soldier in self-defense and was adopted by a pack of wolves, who protected her.

She now says that story was a fantasy and that she never fled her home in Brussels during the war to find her parents.

"This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving," Uyttendaele quoted Defonseca as saying in a statement released to Le Soir in Brussels and Le Figaro in Paris.

"I ask forgiveness to all who felt betrayed. I beg you to put yourself in my place, of a four-year-old girl who was very lost," the statement said.

Defonseca admits her real name is Monique De Wael, but says her parents were arrested and killed by Nazis as Belgian resistance fighters.

"My parents were arrested when I was four years old," she said, adding she was taken care of by her grandfather and uncle.

She said she was poorly treated by her adopted family, called a "daughter of a traitor" because of her parents role in the resistance, which she said, led her to "feel Jewish."

"Later in my life, I have been able to reconcile myself by being welcomed by this (Jewish) community," she added.

She said there were moments where she "found it difficult to differentiate between what was real and what was part of my imagination."

Her lawyer said he had been in contact with Defonseca over recent days saying she was "suffering" from her past and wanted to come out with the truth.

"My profound conviction is that she has been deeply troubled," Uyttendaele told RTL radio. "The situation of my client is that when she was four years old, her parents were arrested, tortured and deported, stigmatized. ... She was part of a Catholic family that detested her."

According to Belgian media reports, pressure had grown on the author in recent months to defend the accuracy of her book, which Defonseca was asked to write by U.S. publisher Jane Daniel in the 1990s, after she heard of Defonseca's story.

"I'm not an expert on relations between humans and wolves but I am a specialist of the persecution of Jews and they (Defonseca's family) can't be found in the archives," Belgian historian Maxime Steinberg told RTL television. "The De Wael family is not Jewish nor were they registered as Jewish."

Daniel and Defonseca fell out over profits received from the best-selling memoirs, which led to a lawsuit that awarded Defonseca and her ghost writer Vera Lee a $22.5 million judgment from a Boston court in 2005.

They accused Daniel of keeping royalties that belonged to them and hiding the money in offshore accounts.

Lee, of Newton, Mass., said she was shocked to hear Defonseca made up the story.

"She always maintained that this was truth as she recalled it, and I trusted that that was the case," Lee said.

Lee said she also researched many points in the book, such as how wolves can interact with young children.

"I felt that that was quite possible when she told me," she said.

Daniel said Friday that she felt vindicated by Defonseca's admission and would try to get the judgment overturned. She said she could not fully research Defonseca's story before it was published because the woman claimed she did not know her parents' names, her birthday or where she was born.

"There was nothing to go on to research," she said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)