In 1997 Misha Defonseca, a Belgian writer living in Massachusetts, published Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years. The book details her wartime experiences as a six-year-old Jewish child searching for her missing parents on a 1,900-mile trek through Belgium, Germany and Poland, during which she kills a Nazi officer and is given shelter by packs of wolves.The article gives two more examples of fraudulent holocaust memoirs but the interesting thing is when it asks why people would do such a thing.
The astonishing autobiographical tale was an instant hit — translated into 18 languages and made into a French film, earning the author millions.
Just one problem: Defonseca’s story was not true. The author, who was born Monique De Wael, has now confessed that — although her parents, members of Belgium’s resistance, were killed by the Nazis — her family was not Jewish and most of the events in the supposedly factual book were made up.
So what is it about the Holocaust that attract so many of these kinds of fantasists? According to psychiatrist Raj Persaud, Defonesca was looking for a sense of belonging. Writing a piece of Holocaust-based “mis lit” — or misery lit — would have guaranteed her a place in the Jewish community.Garnering sympathy? getting away with things that others can't get away? and even getting money out of the holocaust? Who would stoop so low? Why am I even blogging an article like this? This blog is supposed to be about zionism and the State of Israel, not a bunch of holocaust hucksters.
Persaud believes that writing a far-fetched tome about traumatic events is an instant way to elicit sympathy.
He says: “The advantage of using things like the Holocaust or cancer, for example, is that they are big taboo areas. People don’t question your story. No one is going to start questioning what you really went through. To be grilled puts the other person in a very uncomfortable position. By picking on a big taboo area like the Holocaust, you’re more likely to get away with it.”
Besides, he points out, getting the sympathy vote is a good way to avoid obligations. “It’s an excuse-breeding system that helps you escape responsibilities. You can get away with stuff when life requires the rest of us to hit deadlines. This gives you a universal sick note. If you have been traumatised, by and large, people are very forgiving.”
Persaud, who is psychiatric consultant at The Bethlem Royal and Maudsley hospitals in South London, also suspects that De Wael could have been motivated by money. “Disney had an option on the film. It could have been financially very rewarding. And there is the possibility of getting legal recompense,” he says.