I.n November 2007, “Survival with Wolves”, a French-language feature film that is causing a sensation, will hit the cinemas. Its supposedly true story, the story of a child who survived the Holocaust in the forest with the help of wolves, is made for media who like to give history a soulful touch. On the occasion of the film premiere in Paris, the actual protagonist, Misha Defonseca, tours the television studios. She has been traveling the world with her biography, which became a bestseller, since the late 1990s. It meets with great interest, respect, compassion, and awe everywhere. Nobody questions the plausibility of their story. This is interesting in terms of both individual psychology and marketing. Shouldn’t one feel bad to doubt the credibility of someone who escaped the Shoah? And isn’t this story too good to be left to the others?
Defonseca becomes famous – and rich, especially after the legal battle with her first publisher, in which the jury awards her an immense amount of compensation. Only – it’s all not true, as Defonseca himself later admits. From the reality of a “traitor child” (her father called the names of members of the Resistance under torture) in post-war Belgium, she, the Catholic girl, escaped early on into fantasies in which she made up a Jewish victim identity. When the story was discovered shortly after the film opened in theaters, many again believed her new story of a psychologically severely disabled woman who instinctively wants to heal through invention and no longer has any reference to reality herself. Some continue to see them as victims. The fact is, Defonseca has made millions with her fake memories. And that their act humiliates the real victims of the Holocaust, the real hidden children and their murdered parents and loved ones. It damages human dignity and the credibility of real testimonies. It takes almost a decade for the fake to be uncovered. In spite of everything, an astonishing amount of time. Especially since, as it turns out towards the end of the true crime story, which is told as a tense dramaturgical story, “Misha and the Wolves”, warnings from a Holocaust historian were given early on. They went unnoticed.
The scandal, which is also a media scandal, begins, and so begins the British production of Sam Hobkinson, in the town of Millis, Massachusetts. Misha lived here in the 90s with her husband and numerous cats. An eccentric, as the neighbor remembers. One day in the synagogue, Misha spoke of her past: she was a Holocaust survivor. A very special one, because she alone saved the wilderness. Her story contains a subtext: She owes her survival to the animals, supposed beasts. But the only beast in their history is man, they are the Nazis. The story goes in circles and ends up with a small publisher, Jane Daniel, who turns it into a book that initially received little attention. Oprah Winfrey sends a camera team to film Misha in the wolf enclosure. Some of those present describe their relationship with the animals as very touching. Disney buys the film rights. Marketing really picks up speed when Misha sued the publisher. Her life was exploited, she was betrayed. The jury awards Misha a large sum. According to his own statement, Daniel stands there as a “monster”.
Many contributed to Misha’s legend. Hobkinson stages his investigation as a storytelling in history. Each protagonist gets a specially staged stage. Misha’s own statements are again inventions – which the film deconstructs by breaking down the ambience of her fictional interview into individual parts and packing them in a container. Defonseca didn’t want to talk for himself, it’s in the credits. The reports are supplemented by historical war footage and TV clips. Traces of tears on her cheeks, Defonseca tells the moderators concerned, how, presumably in 1941, when she was seven, she killed a man with a knife who had raped another child. He or I, she says, she learned this lesson in the forest. Hobkinson complements the scenes with animation and re-enactment of the research. “Misha and the Wolves” is the impressive prelude to an Arte focus “Documentary”.
Misha and the wolves, 8.15 p.m., Arte
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