This multi-layered account of Nazi cruelty, childhood innocence, and unlikely rescue was published as Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years. It generated millions of dollars in revenue and was translated into 18 languages. A French movie from the book has been a hit during its current run.
Then came the confession through her lawyer last Thursday that Misha Defonseca's dramatic story is a shameful lie.
Defonseca spent the war years in safety in Belgium. Despite her moving speeches about experiences that led to her bestselling book, we know now that she made up the stories about wolves and Nazis. She isn't even Jewish.
Scholars had challenged a garble of dates, events, and information in the book. But their research largely fell on deaf ears, as the public received the book with eagerness. Now the house of cards has collapsed.
People who misrepresent significant realities with trumped-up, self-serving false claims actually manage to tarnish the truth. In the words of Dr. Lawrence Langer, one of the scholars who knew all along it was a hoax: "What happened to the Jews was the worst atrocity in history, and people who exploit it for profit, by posing as Jews or lying about being part of the experience, insult those who went through it. It's as bad as saying the Holocaust never happened."
The gruesome facts of the Holocaust don't change; a woman's misrepresentation of her experiences related to that event minimizes it, however, and gives comfort to Holocaust-deniers and anti-Semites. Neither do the facts of Christ's resurrection and the life-changing power of the gospel change; people who misrepresent themselves as its messengers or devotees tarnish the Christian faith, discredit Jesus of Nazareth, and decrease the likelihood that unbelievers would consider — much less embrace — it.
Sleazy televangelists, gay-bashers at military funerals, priests who molest children, church-member moms and dads who betray families, Sunday school teachers who bully or curse employees at work — all are agents of betrayal. They sabotage the gospel, undermine Christ's appeal, and make faith unattractive.
Truth's credibility is always tied to the integrity of its messengers.
For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed — God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from any human being, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our prerogatives. Instead, we were like young children among you.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you (1 Thessalonians 2:3-9 TNIV).