Saturday, August 30, 2008

Defonseca in court August 28 - the truth, proof and other concepts...

Order BESTSELLER! by Jane Daniel at Laughing Gull Press.

Genealogist Sharon Sergeant was responsible for many of the findings that lead to Misha Defonseca's exposure as a fraud and subsequent confession in Belgium last February. Sergeant also was responsible for an investigation into the Defonseca's finances. Using public records she discovered that at the same time Misha was begging funds from area Temples she had hundreds of thousands of dollars going through various bank accounts. Sharon was in court on Thursday. This is her summation of the situation. Also, an excellent article on hANOVER fIST blog.

by Sharon Sergeant

The AP reports on the Defonseca hearing yesterday focus on the statute of limitations for normal fraud, as opposed to fraud upon the court, perjury that tainted the whole proceedings because Misha was believed to be telling the truth about everything, not just her Holocaust story.

These AP reports appear all over the world and are essentially the same content, though newspapers tend to cut from the bottom or select a few statements when they do not post the whole article. However, they do change the headlines they use.

The International Herald Tribune chose

US author of faked Holocaust book fights for money

This Google search shows other headlines chosen:


*Author of Faked Holocaust Book Fights Publisher for Millions*

Author of fantastical Holocaust book fights publisher

Memoir faker fights publisher

Author of book hoax fights for profits

Author who fabricated Holocaust memoir fights publisher over profits

Author: Publisher 'too late'

*Author of hoax memoir asks judge to toss lawsuit*

**Author of faked Holocaust book fights for her millions

Fake book author wants profits

*Author of faked Holocaust book fights for millions*

Despite lies, US author of faked Holocaust book fights to keep $33 million

Holocaust Book Hoax

Holocaust story author asks suit dismissal

Author of faked Holocaust book fights for millions

What clearly isn't comprehended by the press at this point is that the millions of dollars at stake in this law suit were purported damages - not actual profits in the US!

Here's a fairly accurate report of the court hearing yesterday - focusing on whether the truth matters.

The real millions, and actual profits, are actually in the hands of the global publisher Bernard Fixot, his collaborator Marie Therese-Cuny, and Defonseca. Their post 2001 trial version published in 18 languages, and sold as film rights to Vera Belmont. was made possible by Fixot and Cuny. They hid Misha's true identity behind a fake "hidden child" Valle name and the removal of identifying photos from the original US book by Mt Ivy/Daniel.

Judge Timothy Feeley, yesterday's hearing judge, was unprepared to really examine the 2001 case in any detail. Particularly the issue of statute of limitations involving fraud upon the court and contamination of the entire proceedings. The court belived that Misha was telling the truth.

There were other important issues of discussion that relate to relevance and truth.

First, Judge Feeley questioned whether it mattered that Misha's Holocaust story was untrue.

"Is it important that it was a work of fiction or a memoir?" Feeley asked at one point during the hearing. "I have trouble seeing how this new information changes the extent of the wrong found to be inflicted," said Feeley.

In addition, Frank Frisoli, Vera Lee's lawyer in Lee's absence, adamantly contends that Misha didn't lie, nor confess to any lies. Frisoli eventually wandered off into references for repressed memories for sexually abused children. The judge thought that was not a relevant analogy, but at the same time time was still questioning whether the truth of Misha's story was relevant. There was much discussion about what how the market value of damages was determined based on the truth of Misha's Holocaust story.

Never directly addressing the impact of Misha's lack of truthfulness in any part of the proceedings.

Maria Malagardis addressed attempts to separate Misha from her story, or the value of a true story versus a fiction, in the July XXI Paris journal article.

"The story of the book is the story of the woman."

Vera Belmont's feature film production (reportedly at a cost of $9 million) is foundering, rather than the planned distribution in 20 countries, because it is now known that the story is not true.

Fixot cavalierly maintains that he would have published the story even if he had known it was not true. Fixot defends his direction to change the "hidden child" name from DeWael (Misha's real name as it turns out) to Valle, and remove identifying photographs, to protect his publishing company from defamation suits.

Had the US version been translated and distributed with that identifying information, Misha's childhood friends, who knew it was a fraud, might not have been castigated as anti-Semites, jealous or ridiculing Misha's misery over the years - more than a decade since the original 1997 French publication by Fixot when he was with the Robert Laffont publishing house .

In fact, Serge Aroles, the wolf-child fraud researcher, would also have been able to find the real DeWael family, instead of reaching a dead end with his Valle family research. Aroles correctly used a the scientific methodology as by the forensic genealogy team, but did not have the DeWael name that had been suppressed by the destruction of the US version through the 2001 law suit by Misha and Vera Lee against Daniel/Mt Ivy Press.

Bernard Fixot has now commissioned another ghost writer to work with Misha on her "true story," which they claim is more horrible than her Holocaust story. However, the revelation that Misha's Holocaust story is not true has now been shown to affect the market value vis a vi the problems Vera Belmont now reports that she faces with the film distribution, as well as Fixot's intent to market the "true story" in another book..

Misha appeared "pro se" yesterday (representing herself) before Judge Feeley, but her lawyer from the 2001 trial, Ramona Hamblin (now not a practicing attorney for reasons we haven't yet determined), was sitting next to Misha, and likely wrote the statement that Misha read to the court. Misha claims that she believed her story was true, and that she did not lie.

Hamblin went on record in a Boston Globe letter that "The irony is that Defonseca's real story seems to be even more compelling than the fabrication." Echoing the Fixot escape hatch.

Misha and Fixot's plan seems likely to be to "explain" in Misha's new book how she came to believe her story as a result of her "real trauma." A key to her defense against being a liar, perjurer and fraud.

Judge Feeley also questioned whether the exposure of Misha's real identity wasn't at hand back in the 2000-2001 preparations for the trial based on one clue in her exposure - a US bank signature card, containing a birth date, birth place and mother's maiden name.

Feeley has not processed the fact that the bank signature card was accepted as a false ID provided by Misha's "hidden child" identity as her only only known ID info. This bank ID card did not resolve the DeWael versus Valle maiden name, nor that the Valle story published by Fixot was claimed by Misha to be her "real" story. Nor did it surmount the closed Belgian civil records law of 1955, or the other clues found in the Mt Ivy/Daniel version repressed by the legal proceedings.

Meanwhile, Vera Lee the original ghost writer, herself a Jew as well as an academic scholar, has been quoted as saying that she filled in pieces of Misha's story herself, but that she always believed the Misha Holocaust story, yet also somehow claiming that statement when she also said questioned the Misha story but that Jane Daniel dismissed her questions.

This is another relevant piece of circular logic. Judge Feeley questioned whether Lee should be held as accountable as Misha - even if the truth is relevant.

Misha also said in her statement to the court yesterday that she was telling her story long before the book [reportedly since 1989] and the court action, to prove that she didn't make anything up to defraud the court. Yet she and Fixot have been claiming since the Belgian 28 February 2008 statement in Le Soir, just hours before Misha's confession statement, that Jane Daniel made Misha believe her Holocaust story. Jane Daniel first met Misha in 1994 approximately 5 years after Defonseca was telling her holocaust story.

Misha had also embellished her Holocaust story in recent years to include references to her deformed feet and legs as being a result (and proof) of her childhood experiences - despite the fact that the Daniel/Mt Ivy book contained flattering pictures of her at age 40 with no signs of the leg and foot deformity that this now elderly woman exhibits, previously illiciting cries of anguish from the school

children she showed.

Does the truth matter when a fraud usurps the lives of real Holocaust survivors and exploits everyone around her?

Is Misha's intent and motivation relevant, when her previous claims that she and her life story being victimized, emotionally and financially, now face a longitudinal time line scrutiny of what she was saying versus what she was actually doing.

Do Misha's financial transactions have any relevance when she said she was destitute and yet was actually taking tens of thousands of dollars out of the bank in cash?

Misha's claims of eating dog food, begging from Jewish charities and losing her home can now be contrasted to her actual collection of book sales, royalties, speaking fees versus her home and debt difficulties in a time line with cash withdrawals from her bank accounts. The veracity of fictitious claims and others were previously accepted - simply because she was believed to be who she said she was, a beleaguered Holocaust survivor.

Jane Daniel has noted that an old saw in the legal world says that failing citations of law or fact, some lawyers fall upon hyperbole to provide distracting suspicions without evidence. Hyperbole is always circular. Truth is a straight line.

The question remains in this case as to whether the legal system can find it's way back to the law and the facts.

Melinde Sanborn, a co-editor of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, and one of the 50 lifetime Fellows of the American Society since 1993, commented after attending yesterday's hearing, that the judge may be faced with determining whether Misha Defonseca is either a liar - or incompetent to provide any credible testimony in the proceedings if Misha is actually unable to distinguish her illusions from reality.

Misha's financials direct attention to the result of her statements over time. No matter whether Misha is a liar or subject to pathological delusion, and incapable of distinguishing truth from fiction, Misha, and whoever in the many possible parties may be deemed complicit, has accomplished a lucrative fraud at the expense of others.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Does the Truth Matter?

Order BESTSELLER! by Jane Daniel at Laughing Gull Press.

Gail McCarthy has an excellent piece in today's Gloucester Times about the hearing in the Daniel vs. Lee/Defonseca case.
You can read it here.

Joe Orlando, Misha Defonseca and Vera Lee's lawyer in court yesterday.

Basically what Judge Freeley has to decide is does it matter that Misha lied about her life and passed it off as truth? Does it matter that she perjured her testimony from the very beginning? And does it matter that her contract, the contract that was the basis of her lawsuit against Jane Daniel, was void from the outset because in it she verified that her story was true? In other words, is it okay for a person to concoct an elaborate lie to con someone into backing them into writing a book and then turn around and lie in court in order to sue them for everything they have?

That's all the judge has to decide...

(Now I really am taking some time off --- see you next week.)

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Is There Justice for the World of Publishing?

On Thursday, August 28 In Middlesex Superior Court, Woburn, MA a motion alleging fraud on the court will be presented in the case of Misha Defonseca and Vera Lee vs. Jane Daniel and Mount Ivy Press. For those who have followed this blog over the last year, you know this story all too well. For those who are new here there are plenty of places you can go to read about it --- you can start at BESTSELLER! The story is this:

  1. Jane Daniel met Misha Defonseca, a Millis woman who claimed to be a Holocaust survivor. Defonseca told a remarkable tale of losing her parents to Hitler's death camps and surviving by spending four years walking across Europe. Daniel was so impressed with the story that she offered to help Defonseca write the book and Daniel would publish it through her small publishing company, Mt Ivy Press. Defonseca agreed and signed a contract verifying that the story was true and had happened to her.

  2. Daniel financed the writing of the book which included hiring a French-speaking ghost writer, Vera Lee, because Defonseca's English was not good.

  3. Lee and Defonseca signed a contract with Daniel and collaborated on the writing of the book. The contract stipulated that: a.) the story was true, and b.) the content of the final draft would be in a form and of content acceptable to the publisher.

  4. While Defonseca worked with Lee to write the book, Daniel began marketing the book which included a.) hiring a prestigious literary agency (Palmer & Dodge), b.) getting a contract with a prestigious speakers bureau for Defonseca, c.) arranging for many appearances including one on the Oprah Winfrey Show, d.) marketing the dramatic rights to the Disney Corporation

  5. Quarrels arose between the two writers. Daniel was not satisfied with the form and content of the manuscript and stepped in to expedite finishing the script in order to meet contractual deadlines.

  6. Lee, unhappy with Daniel's rejection of her writing, withdrew from the project and filed suit against Daniel. Subsequently lawsuits broke out all over the place and in 2001 a court awarded Lee and Defonseca a $33 million judgment against Daniel.

  7. The court also awarded the copyright of the book, which Daniel financed the writing of, to Defonseca.

  8. After the lawsuit Defonseca took the book that Daniel had financed to Europe and sold it to 18 other publishers and sold the movie rights to filmmaker Vera Belmont whose movie, based on the book, premiered in December 2007

  9. In February 2008 Defonseca confessed that the story was a hoax, that she was not Jewish, that she had never traveled across Europe, and that the entire story was a lie.

  10. Subsequently Daniel filed a complaint alleging fraud on the court on Defonseca's part because the entire lawsuit Defonseca had brought against her was based on lies and that, because she had signed a contract verifying that the story was true, the contract was void from the beginning, thus, in absence of a contract, Daniel had no obligations to Defonseca. Furthermore, Defonseca's testimony in the trial was perjured from the beginning.

Now, it doesn't take John Houseman to see that this is a simple case of contract law. Given the above facts, what will the court do? Will it refuse to overturn the case thus legitimizing Defonseca's hoax and the subsequent fraud, contract violation, and perjury? Or will it overturn the judgment after all these years and vacate the $33 million dollar judgment against Daniel?

These are questions no one in the publishing/literary world can ignore. If you read the Findings and Facts and Rulings of Law handed down at the end of the trial it is utterly and completely terrifying to those of us who are independent publishers or, in fact, publishers of any sort. The Findings of Fact, etc. is filled with so-called findings that should scare us all. Mt Ivy Press, it finds, was a “sham” company. Why? Good question. How many small presses are there in this country that would fit that description according to their definition? Daniel “misrepresented” her company's ability to promote Defonseca's book. How well would any of us be able to compare our abilities as publishers to what Daniel did?

The question is this, if an author signs a contract swearing that the story they are telling is true and then, after winning hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus the rights to the book which they also sell for hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of dollars, then admits she lied, can she get away with it?

We'll find out on August 28th.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Best of ____ Well, Not Quite

I've been writing this blog for over three years now and there are over 600 blog entries here. I have several stat counters and other gizmos to tell me what people are reading when they come here and it is sort of amazing to me which blogs from the past three years get the most attention. You never know what people will go looking for on the internet. So, as I was reading through my stats recently I decided to post a list, in no particular order, of the most popular:

1. The New Neighbor: Back in December 2006 I wrote a blog when Jay Severin bought a house in Manchester by the Sea. In all honesty I've considered deleting this blog just because it gets so much traffic. WHO CARES about this guy??? Obviously a lot of people!

2. Mending the Nets: I originally posted this in 2005 and then repeated it in April of this year. It still gets lots of hits. I'm happy --- I think it was a good one.

3. Gone Hollywood Ga-Ga: I posted this in January of this year because I was getting phone calls from someone talking about The Old Mermaid's Tale being optioned for a movie. That never went very far but this post gets a lot of hits mostly, I suspect, because of the photo of Anthony Delon. Okay, ladies, here are two more. Drool away:

4. Sense of Place: I wrote this in October 2007 about Boston College and the images I was relying on to help me write about it. It still gets hits every day.

5. The Allure of the Beast: This is from August 2007. It is about the allure of sexy but dangerous men. It also gets hits on a daily basis. Seems I have some naughty readers out there!

6. Puttanesca and My Invented Heritage: I suspect this just gets hit because of the recipe for puttanesca but it is popular!

7. Hancock's Angel: I'm really pleased that as many people keep reading this one about Walker Hancock and his gorgeous angel!

8. Mermaid Tales: This was a little treatise from 2005 on the lure of the mermaid in literature.

9. Jean Lafitte: My Invented Grandfather: I'm happy that people still visit this one because I loved writing it. It still makes me think of my father and laugh.

10. Lobstermen Are Hot: An article in The New Yorker Magazine inspired this one.

So that's it for now. I hope I can write another 10 memorable blogs in the course of the next 600!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Good-bye to My Friend

In 1980 I had just moved into a new apartment complex in Houston and I didn't know anyone. There was a courtyard with a pool and 8 beautiful weeping willow trees and residents used to gather there in the cool evenings. There was a man who was always there --- a very handsome man --- who sometimes had a little girl with him. It wasn't long before we got to know each other. His name was Michael, his daughter's name was Ashleigh. It didn't take long to learn to love them both.

For several years we were the best of friends. On the weekends when Michael had his daughter we would take her to the beach or the zoo or somewhere fun. I made her a costume for the annual rodeo in Houston. On the weekends when Ashleigh was with her mother, Michael and I spent most of our time getting into various forms of mischief. No one could find more fun to have than Michael.

In 1984 Michael developed a chest cold that wouldn't go away. I was worried about him but he was always in such good spirits that I couldn't stay worried for long. One Saturday morning I went to his apartment because I thought he looked terrible the day before. I found Ashleigh sitting at the table with a bowl of cereal. The house was a disaster --- most unusual --- and I found Michael trying to sleep sitting up in bed. His skin was the color of putty --- old putty. “Come on,” I said, “I'm taking you to the emergency room.”

No, he told me, you take care of Ashleigh and I'll get to the emergency room on my own. I didn't feel good about that but I didn't know what else to do.

When Michael didn't return by 2:00pm I took Ashleigh to her mother's house and got our friend Scott to go with me to the hospital. What we found shocked both of us. Michael was in intensive care, his heart was severely enlarged, and they didn't expect him to make it through the night. I knew his family was in Maine but that was all I knew. I called his ex-wife and, with her help, we made the necessary phone calls.

Michael survived that night. He survived that night and a year's worth of others until he was finally admitted to Texas Heart where he would live until a heart became available for him. His family and loved ones and I waited with fear and faith and love and prayers. Finally on the 4th of July 1985 a heart became available. The transplant was performed. A few weeks later Michael was taken to Maine and we kept in touch through phone calls and letters.

By 1987 Michael was well enough to be living on his own in Camden, Maine. I was still in Houston living with a man who was making me miserable. I complained to Michael about it endlessly. “Look,” he said one night while I was in tears, “just get the hell out of there. Come up here. You can live with me until you decide what you want to do.” And that is how I wound up in New England.

I loved Michael's family --- they were a family much like my own --- big and loud and wonderful and warm. We often spent weekends with them in Sangerville or at Sebec Lake. Ashleigh came up for the summer. It was a delightful time. By autumn I knew I needed to get a job and, for a variety of reasons, I decided to move to Salem, Massachusetts.

Over the next several years we kept in touch through long phone calls and letters and email. I moved to Gloucester. He move to Hawaii. But he always came back to spend summers in Maine and I would find time for a visit. He knew his time was limited --- a man with someone else's heart in his chest knows such things. But he lived to see his daughter become a woman --- I was in Sangerville for her wedding. And he lived to see his granddaughter Sydney born (above left). The last time I saw him was two summers ago when I picked up Ashleigh and her daughter Sydney at Logan Airport and drove them to Portland to meet Michael and his dear friend Paleka who traveled with him now. In 2006 Michael was diagnosed with cancer and he survived that too. He was a walking miracle --- the second longest heart transplant in the country.

This morning his sister Jackie called me to give me the news. Michael had arrived as he always did in the summer. He was thin as a rail and very frail but that smile, that wonderful gorgeous smile, and that wicked sense of humor was as vibrant as always. He attended his sister's fortieth birthday party and even danced. The next day, yesterday, he said he needed to lie down. When he didn't get up this morning they went upstairs and found out that, after 23 years of fighting the good fight, Michael had left this world. He left in the midst of the people he loved most in all the world having danced away the previous evening. And he died in bed --- his favorite place. He died a good death. But he will be missed. He will be very, very, very much missed.

Thank you, Michael, for all you did for me --- for getting me away from a bad situation and into the arms of your wonderful family. Thank you for teaching me about loons and taking me sailing and taking me to my first (and only) drag show. Thank you for the light that radiated from you like a choir of naughty angels. And thank you for being a precious part of my life. Sleep well. You've earned it.

Thanks for reading.

Why Blog?

It seems in recent months there has been a flowering of blogs among my friends and acquaintances. All of a sudden everyone is blogging. Since I am in the Old War Horse category of bloggers having blogged regularly for over 3 years now with over 600 blog entries to my --- well, I'm not sure if “credit” is the right word --- I'm kind of fascinated by this sudden boom in blogging.

During a discussion about blogs on a message board I am known to participate in, a comment was made that I appreciated. In the discussion some people were of the opinion that blogs would never replace message boards because they were just one person's opinion whereas message boards were more discussion oriented. People had varying perspectives on this but inevitably it came to the point that the problem with the open discussion character of discussion boards means that a lot of people, tucked securely behind the veil of anonymity, use the discussion boards to attack others, flame, insult, ridicule and otherwise act like idiots thus ruining the experience for those seeking serious discussion. One person said that he used to like message boards but was now considering a blog because he would not have to deal with the idiots. Someone responded calling him an elitist and he came back with the personally reasonable point that when you have a blog of your own, in your own name, there is a “pride of ownership” that compels you to maintain a standard not available on message boards. I liked that.

This is the way I see it --- a message board is the neighborhood tavern, a blog is a cocktail party in your home. In the neighborhood tavern you have no control over who is there and what they do there. It can be fun and a great time but you have to surrender any expectations of standards. At a home party you do have control over who participates and what level of experience can be maintained. Both have their place.

Of course blogs exist on many levels. I personally have three of them --- one for recipes, one (brand new and still struggling) for business purposes, and this one for essays, thoughts and ramblings. There is a great popularity for photo blogs these days which are great fun. Family blogs are another trend. But for my purposes here it is cultivating --- for myself but in a public forum --- the art of the personal essay. I borrow that phrase from Philip Lopate, who edited and wrote the introduction to The Art of The Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. It is an admirable book. Lopate was teaching at the University of Houston when I lived in that city and one of my friends was taking classes with him. She talked about him a lot --- I suspect she had a bit of a crush on him --- and she gave me a couple of his books as presents. I purchased the Personal Essay book some years later.

I happen to much admire personal essays and the people who write them. My bookshelves are crowded with volumes by John Updike, Andrei Codrescu, Noah Adams, Norman Mailer and other essayists whose work I admire. I'm particularly fond of essayists who write about writing. I've frequently lamented the regrettable memoir genre so popular these days but, of course, memoirs exist on all levels and Augusten Burroughs, no matter how many books he writes about his dreadful childhood, will never hold a candle to Marcel Proust. But I suspect that the hunger for an experience of another's inner machinations, as revealed in the well-crafted essay, is somewhat satisfied by the current crop of horrid memoirs in the way that a hunger for a good meal can be staved off by a Happy Meal.

A fellow blogger told me recently that he was amazed by the way I could blog in such a forthright manner about my feelings and emotions. This is something I have mixed feelings about. I am a firm believer that, if you want to write, you have to be willing to do that --- but do it without becoming solipsistic. This was one of Mark's favorite topics of discussion. He was a firm believer in putting one's self out there and of being emotionally honest on the page but he had little tolerance for self-analysis. We used to talk about that a lot. His theory was “just put it out there”, I'm not quite as brave.

Blogging is a fascinating phenomenon. I cruise blogs on a regular basis and am happy when I find one that is consistently interesting. Perhaps the day will come when everyone blogs. We can only hope that The Art of the Personal Essay will continue to flourish and provide grist for the mills of our fellow bloggers.

Thanks for reading.