Misha and the Wolves
A young Jewish girl in Belgium during World War Two, her survival only possible by hiding her identity, sets out on an epic journey into Germany to find her parents, living amongst the wolves in the forest. This narrative forms the backbone of Misha Defonseca’s 1997 book, Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years. At one point during this stranger-than-fiction documentary, it’s pointed out that Misha’s account of her life has mythic qualities. It turns out that there’s a very good reason for that.
In the 1990s Misha Defonseca, now living in Millis, Massachusetts, visited her local synagogue on Holocaust Memorial Day. She shared her remarkable account with the congregation, catching the attention of Jane Daniel, a local publisher. Misha’s story was written, and the resulting memoir was published. Sales were insignificant, and Daniel was accused of hiding what little royalties there were. A lawsuit ensued, and Misha’s memoir was published across Europe, becoming a runaway success. Anxious to gain legal leverage after losing the lawsuit, Daniel decided to investigate the accuracy of Misha’s memoir.
Director Sam Hobkinson has shrewdly packaged his documentary as a mystery, and, while it’s easy enough to guess the secret that lies at the heart of Misha and the Wolves, the thrill is in the hunt. Who would have thought that footage of an elderly Belgian genealogist flipping through old ledgers could be so gripping? There’s also some sly cinematic sleight of hand during the confessional-style interviews with Misha herself, craftily raising a few questions about the nature of authenticity in media that purports to be a truthful account of real life.
There’s a small misstep towards the end of the film, when a Holocaust historian points out that she questioned Misha’s credibility before the book was even published, which somewhat undercuts the impact of everything that has been revealed before. This is a minor objection, and Hobkinson’s documentary cleverly allows its mystery to unfold, culminating in a story that’s as extraordinary as it is disconcerting.
Misha and the Wolves is released in select cinemas on 3rd September 2021.
Watch the trailer for Misha and the Wolves here: