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Woman who wrote fake Holocaust memoir must pay back $22.5M to publisher

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This undated photo shows Misha Defonseca, left, and Vera Lee, co-authors of 'Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years' (AP)

A Belgium-born Massachusetts woman who admitted to fabricating a best-selling memoir about her experiences during World War II and the Holocaust has been ordered to pay back $22.5 million to her publisher. 

Judge Marc Kantrowitz issued what he called "the third, and hopefully last" opinion in the case April 29. It confirmed a 2012 court ruling setting aside a pervious verdict awarding Misha Defonseca millions of dollars due to her publisher's "highly improper representations and activities."

The ruling appears to be the final chapter of a 17-year story that began when Defonseca's book "Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years" was published in 1997. 

In her book, Defonseca, now 76, recounted trekking through the forests of Europe after her parents were arrested by the Nazis, at one point living with wolves and fatally stabbing a Nazi soldier — all while she was between the ages of 7 and 11.

In fact, Defonseca -- born Monica Ernestine Josephine De Wael -- was enrolled in a Brussels school during World War II, and wasn't even Jewish. Her parents were arrested because they were part of the anti-Nazi resistance. 

Defonseca rationalized her fraud by saying that her parents’ arrest and her subsequent harsh treatment at the hands of relatives who took her in led her to “feel Jewish.”

"This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving," Defonseca said in a statement given by her lawyers to The Associated Press after the truth came to light.

She was not exposed until 2008, when researchers in the U.S. and Belgium said they could not find evidence of her family in any Holocaust archives. In the intervening years, the book was translated into 18 languages and made into a French feature film "Surviving with the Wolves."

In 1998, Defonseca and her ghostwriter, Vera Lee, won a $32.4 million judgement against Mt. Ivy Press and its founder Jane Daniel over allegedly hiding profits. Daniel, who had asked Defonseca to write the book after overhearing her telling her stories at a Massachusetts synagogue, told the Associated Press in 2008 that Defonseca claimed she did not know the names of her parents, her birthday, or where she was born, making the facts difficult to check. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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