Why did it take so long for a far-fetched Holocaust memoir to be debunked?

In 2002, I published a book about a man who called himself Binjamin Wilkomirski, the author of Fragments, an acclaimed but, it turned out, bogus Holocaust memoir. Wilkomirski—his actual name was Bruno Doessekker—used my own family history (my great-grandmother was a Wilkomirski) to concoct a Jewish identity for himself.

While researching the Wilkomirski case, I came across Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, by Misha Defonseca. Published in 1997, Misha is about a Jewish girl from Brussels who walked across Europe by herself during World War II and spent months living in the forest. Like Fragments, it's the story of a vulnerable child, alone in the world, who travels great distances and faces perils as chilling as they are difficult to verify. Even if you forget for a moment that Defonseca has two prolonged encounters with wolves in war-torn Europe, her story strains credulity: She walks from Belgium to Ukraine, sneaks into and out of the Warsaw Ghetto, and stabs to death a Nazi rapist who attacks her—all between ages 7 and 11.

Now, 11 years after publishing her memoir and almost two decades since she went public with her story, Defonseca has admitted that she is actually Monique De Wael, the orphaned daughter of two Catholic members of the Belgian resistance. Yesterday, through her lawyer, she released a statement to the Brussels newspaper Le Soir. The story of Misha, she said, "is not actual reality, but was my reality, my way of surviving."

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... and making a few million on the movie deal!

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