APG-L ArchivesArchiver > APG > 2008-02 > 1204340439
From: Sharon <>
Subject: Re: [APG] Misha Defonseca Holocaust fraud case in the Boston Globe
Date: Fri, 29 Feb 2008 22:00:39 -0500
Dear Myrt, Barbara an other interested folks,
First, having spent quite a bit of time discussing this case with
reporters over the last two weeks, I can tell you that there are still a
few discrepancies in the news reports, and more to come. The basic
results are often addressed ok, but the back story is neglected.
In the interview I did with DearMyrt (before the US news and the AP took
this sensationalist story to the international press today), we did
focus on the methodology and the basis of the back story. That is what
is really important. Still, this story is publicity that can benefit the
entire genealogical community. The back story is the success of
genealogy methodology and a lesson for everyone who has an unsolved mystery.
Myrt commented and provides additional resources on her blog today.
The Wednesday podcast is available at
The research plan and the formation of a team was really critical to
solving this "cold" case. Teams can be people on the ground or
indirectly associated as resource leads and sounding boards - like this
list. While I could not discuss this case on this list, I do have a
network of folks that I work with on a number of projects. APG chapter
involvement, other genealogical societies, mentoring and volunteering
are two way resources.
I do have a special interest in getting underutilized resources like
maps and newspapers to be used in genealogical problems, but I have also
learned the value of other image resources - particularly photos.
The photos that were in the original US publication of this story, but
removed in most European publications, happened to provide one red flag
for why the case might not have been solved.
We were able to create a time line of the photos that gave us a visual
rudder in formulating the research plan. I was able to employ the
expertise of Maureen Taylor of PhotoDetective.com and Colleen
Fitzpatrick of Forensicgenealogy.info
Many other types of expertise were instrumental in the team.
What we didn't discuss in the podcast was the process we followed with
numerous conflicting details (a moveable feast in 18 languages and
various versions). We really had to focus on carefully updating a
"likely" versus "unlikely" comparison of these details as we proceeded.
Belgium passed a law in 1955 closing all vital records for 100 years. We
had to use alternatives. I had no experience in Belgian resources.
I knew from a personal friend, a Hidden Child in Hungary, not only what
the life of a Hidden Child might have been like, but what the historical
differences might be between Hungary and Belgium.
Eileen Polakoff and Gary Mokotoff led me to resources for better
understanding of the Holocaust in Belgium. Those resources followed
several intertwined threads of inquiry, but the bottom line is that we
did simultaneously follow resources for the negative proof (the family
configuration in the Belgian deportee lists, the described process for
creating fake identities etc), as well as the tried and true method of
looking in all the 20th century directories we could find for all the
potential surnames of interest - particularly since other red flags
emerged in the change of the name "DeWael" to "Valle" in European
editions, and the fact that US records provided us with Monique
Ernestine Defonseca's birthplace of Etterbeek, Belgium on May 12, 1937,
a mother's maiden name of Donville, and a son (from a first marriage)
with the surname of Levy, and a middle name of Robert.
Ceil Jensen alerted me to several issues from her experience with the
Belgian community in the Detroit area. Those tips and Belgian
genealogical society folks led us to a wealth of obituaries, archived
as death announcements (like the birth and wedding announcements we are
used to in the US) - as an alternative to newspaper obits. We found
family compositions that matched the story, as well as ties to the
occupations and street addresses that we found in the directories.
Then we zeroed in the neighborhoods, Catholic parishes and followed that
information to school records, and WW II records - tying the child
Monique De Wael to not only her parents and grandparents, but her first
husband, and a four generation family tradition of providing children
with middle names from their grandparents, right down to Monique De
Wael's son from her first marriage.
While this was enough to cause the Belgian historians, officials and
press to confront the fraud, and elicit a confession, there is more to
For everyone, there are the lessons of success with genealogy
methodology, as well as the real history we learn when we do genealogy -
even when it touches on very difficult subjects.
As the rest of the story unfolds, there will be more food for thought no
matter what type of genealogical problem we face.
I often think of my 7th grade science teacher Mr Hopkins and the basics
of the "scientific method" - postulate a theory, plan a test, test the
theory, analyze the results, modify the theory and tests, the retest
until you have test results that are consistent with the theory.
Mr Hopkins was a war veteran who had clanking braces that kept him on
his feet, and us on our toes. It is amazing how some lessons in life
converge. In my work, he is a factor in the development of genealogy as
a discipline. But thanks to all of you who contribute to that effort.