Panorama, Undercover: Britain’s Biggest GP chains, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, undercover reporter Jacqui Wakefield

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0017x2b/panorama-undercover-britains-biggest-gp-chain

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/jun/13/britains-biggest-chain-of-gp-surgeries-accused-of-profiteering

My partner recently had to go into hospital. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow, Accident and Emergency. It was recently slated for having up to a thirteen-hour waiting time. We know there is little point phoning for a GP appointment on the Tuesday, after a Bank Holiday. The phone will ring off the hook. My tactic to avoid this is go to the surgery window and wait to catch the receptionist’s gaze. We’re an ageing population with more money needed to be channelled into health care.

What we get instead is Thatcherite ideology of the market knows best. The market does know best. It knows best how to take money from poor people and give it to the rich. In this case Operose Health, which is a subsidiary of private healthcare firm Centene. In the United States their looting of welfare funds led to them being sued by a number of State bodies for fraud. They paid the fine, but, of course, didn’t admit guilt.

What we have here is a different kind of fraud. A rentier class, who are paid a fixed amount for providing a service where there is no risk to the rich. We also did it with trains. Subsidised other nation’s rain networks and it gave them a guaranteed income.  

70 GP surgeries and 600 000 patients. Jacqui Wakefield logged 300 patients waiting to get through to her. And she couldn’t offer any GP appointments for any of them. One ruse was to offer appointments with a cheaper option. Put them in a white coat. Give them a fancy title. Work them with appointment after appointment so they do the equivalent work of two GPs. That’s called efficiency savings. In other words, profit for destroying the worker’s health and the health of the people he or she is trying, but failing to help.

  A study of the equivalent of Norwegian GP’s, for example, found that the more highly qualified those practicing medicine the better outcome for the patient. Not only were they able to pick up early signs of disease and treat it earlier saving more costly treatments with knock-on effects at later stages. A virtuous circle.   

A vicious circle looks something like this model. Underqualified staff.  Clinical correspondence – medical reports, test results and hospital letters – that had not been read for up to six months.

In the Thatcherite model of health care, patients would be able to shop around for better treatment, where they weren’t treated to the indignity of having to spend days on the phone. Similarly, GP practices would compete against each other to bring in the brightest and best and innovate, while making a profit. In the same way we did with our prisons, or the probation service, before that was scrapped as being unworkable.

Scotland has largely rejected this carpetbagger model of modern finance. But the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was extended with many of the same principles. Give money to rich people for building something you could do cheaper and better with forward planning. We can clap NHS workers, while not giving them a pay rise and look for savings elsewhere.  We know how this looks. It looks very much like the one rule for the rich and one rule for the poor of Centene and their ilk. Efficiency savings are only efficient if they end up in a tax haven. We all know how that feels. Because we’re all in it together. In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, ‘some animals are more equal than others’.  Some patients are more valued than others.

My Name is Leon, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, adapted for television by Shola Amoo, Director Lynette Linton.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00184br/my-name-is-leon

Anyone that has been paying attention knows a Tory government that continually takes money from the poor and gives it the rich is where we are now. The worst cost-of-living crisis in fifty years. More children taken into care by local authorities grows year on year, while central government takes away funds for caring (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/23/the-guardian-view-on-looked-after-children-time-to-join-the-dots). Just watch the programme and shut up, some folk will be saying. I did and I’m angry because things have got worse since the race riots of the 1980s. We lost the propaganda war and the fictional Leon’s graduate from children’s homes to adult prisons with monotonous regularity.

I read Kit de Waal’s novel (and had a look at my notes afterwards) so I know the plot is where you bury the bones of fiction. Who are you? What are you?

Shola Amoo gets to play god with another writer’s lifeblood. Her story is Kit’s story, which is Leon’s story (actor, Cole Martin). He lives in Birmingham with his mum Carol (Poppy Lee Friar). Carol is white. Leon is eight-years old and not white. His baby brother is white. Leon has to take care of the new baby and his mother. None of this is right.

Their local-authority foster carer, Maureen (Monica Dolan) brings love and stability into their lives. In the book, she is black and Leon thinks of her as elderly. In the adaptation, she is white.

‘Is it cause I’m black?’ Ali G used to both ridicule and get a rise out of white authority figures in the nineteen-nineties.

Leon asks the same question when his baby brother gets taken away and adopted. The unfunny answer is yes. It is because you’re black as Jackie Kay (Scottish author and poet laurate) tells the reader in her memoirs, whose Communist parents took not only her, but her brother not in an act of heroism, but of love. Brexit is also a constant reminder of the hate we’re fed from an early age. Leon’s age also worked against him, social worker Salma (Shobna Gulati) explained to him. Adoptive parents, generally, want babies and puppies, not baggage.

When worn-out Maureen gets sick, her sharp-tongued sister, Sylvia (Olivia Williams) steps in until she gets better. Leon finds his father-figure on his bike. Following Tufty Burrows (Malachi Kirby) on his racer to his plot, where he grows Leon up to the black boy he needs to be, rooted in fellowships and black culture. If life was that simple, I’d grow two of them like horns.     

Judy, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, written by Tom Edge and Peter Quilter, directed by Rupert Goold.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0012y9d/judy

The use of the singular name implies the universal. A rose by any other name is still a rose. Judy Garland arrives in swinging London for a number of sell-out performances in The Talk of the Town in the winter of 1968. Six months later she was dead at the age of 47.

Renee Zellweger is Judy, with a long chin, white butterfly masquerade mask of a face with bright red lips. Get the spiky black hair, but it’s the voice that counts. I’m no great fan of music, but The Wizard of Oz was on every Christmas of childhood. Judy inhabits our past. Her arrival in London was met with the nostalgic acclaim of virtual and digitally enhanced ABBA performing their medley of greatest hits. They didn’t put a foot wrong, but Judy was a drunken mess, which was part of the attraction. I winced as fans flung food at her.  

She joked she slept around five hours in her whole childhood. Uppers and downers, and a chaperone to make sure she didn’t eat. Drilled for eighteen hours a day. She was an asset when working. A liability to be watched over when not.  When a doctor in London examiners her and gives her another ‘vitamin’ injection, he proclaims her underweight, her response that he was flirting with her.

Inevitably, a side story of her tour involves a duo of male admirers who are homosexual. Judy gets married to a younger admirer, but the wedding cake lasts longer than the groom. She tells a talk-show host that she’s only Judy for an hour a night, when she’s performing. The other time, like everybody else, she’s a working mother of two children whom she loves and is poor old put-upon Lorna Luft (Bella Ramsey).

In a flashback, Judy/ Lorna Luft makes Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) come out of his office and give the soon to be sixteen-year-old Judy a telling off. He puts his hand on her adolescent breast. He owns her is the message, which she would take heed to learn again and again.  

The rise and fall of Judy is the rise and fall of Renee Zellweger. I could take or leave the film, but Zellweger’s performance is one worth remembering. I don’t know if she won any awards for it (the film was made for BBC in 2019), but if not, she should have. Wow.    

Being Gail Porter, BBC Scotland, BBC iPlayer, presented by Gail Porter.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000df09/being-gail-porter

‘I’m no longer a pretty girl,’ Gail Porter says in a conversation she’s having with an old friend, but she’s also speaking to the viewer.

We judge so much by appearance. And she’s right. She’s no longer young and she’s no longer pretty. Alopecia has robbed her of her trademark blonde hair. In 1999, she was one of the most well-known presenters on telly. Her naked image was projected onto the Houses of Parliament. FHM magazine sold out. She remembers herself being one of the top ten hotties, but with her usual candour notes that she didn’t win. She wasn’t voted number one. Sometimes when you scratch the surface, you get more surface.

But Gail Porter is no longer a pretty mess, she’s just trying to get by. We go back to her roots, off Portobello in Edinburgh. An idyllic upbringing, sorta. Right on the beach, but mum and dad were always fighting. She was a pretty girl and got work as a children’s presenter. Anorexia was her fall-back positon. But watching these clips a different kind of girl emerges, vibrant and funny and a natural in front of the camera. She was the real deal.

Moving to London was a natural stepping stone. Everybody loved her. She even got to present Top of the Pops. That brought her a boyfriend, the lead singer of Hipsway, and a much loved child. But she suffered from post-natal depression—and depression in general—she was sectioned in 2014. Mental Health patients are hiding away at the back of the hospital she was admitted to in London.  And she admitted to being homeless and sleeping on a park bench.

The tabloids fed on her fall from fame. Her alopecia and drunkness. She also cut herself. Serious self-harm. Make-up girls were familiar with these wounds and worked out how best to hide them when she had work presenting. When the phone stopped ringing. When she had no work and no home. There’s no way out. A self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. But here’s the thing, she’s no longer pretty, but Gail Porter is lovely. She’s self-depreciating and honest. That little girl that never quite grew up has retained her childlike wonder. The media sucked her in and spat her out. But Gail Porter is still Gail Porter. I wish her all kinds of well.  

Fergal Keane: Living with PTSD, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, presenter Fergal Keane, Director Mike Connolly.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0017795/fergal-keane-living-with-ptsd

There’s a contradiction Fergal Keane suffers from Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD) but he’s in Ukraine. He’s on the frontline. He’s been there before. Cutting his teeth in the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. He’s been in South Africa and Rwanda.

The British journalist, Linda Melvern (2000) A People Betrayed, outlines the role of the West, NATO, and the international community, which stepped aside in 1994 and Rwanda’s genocide with over a million dead. She outlines here reports of victims from a peace-keeping mission:

‘They left the Bangladeshi crew with the Armoured Personnel Carrier, and walked into the church gardens. It was there they found the bodies. Whole families had been killed with their children, hacked by machetes. There were terrible wounds to the genitalia. Some people were not dead. There was a three-month-old baby, the mother raped and the baby killed with a terrible wound. There were children, some with their legs and feet cut off, and their throats cut. Most of the victims bled to death.’

Keane witnessed this genocide. We saw footage of children in the back of a truck fleeing and being stopped at checkpoints by murderers with machetes. They were waved on. The cameras and Keane’s presence probably saved them. He sought a reunion with a child refugee from that convey in London.  He should have perhaps asked her what she thinks of Boris Johnson’s latest publicity stunt—away from Ukrainian war washing of his reputation—of sending refugees to Rwanda.    

Keane admits booze helped him over the next hill and the hill after that. He had nightmares of being trapped under bodies. His body too was shot with anxiety; yet, the next high of war work was addictive as any drug. That was his job. That was who he was. Working for the BBC was a blessing and a curse. He was suicidal, but he was treated with dignity and courtesy. All of the middle-class job virtues we wish poor people were allowed. He met with his therapist in The Priory. Her treatment was unconventional and involved mimicking deep-sleep patterns by rubbing and tapping his hand. But then too so was Rivers in Pat Barker’s first-world-war trilogy (The Ghost Road). His therapist’s treatment worked for Keane, but he could never be cured, and only hope was to stay sober and grounded.

There was an interesting aside about stress patterns being inherited, from generation to generation. His grandmother taking to the bed as the Black and Tans committed murder in the name of preserving law and order.  Fergal Keane as a special correspondent was there when duty called. He’s put himself back in the line. For many others with PTSD the choices are narrower. And there are no easy answers that don’t involve investing more money in health care.

House of Maxwell, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Narrator Shaun Dooley, Director Daniel Vernon.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0b64mbt/house-of-maxwell-series-1-episode-1

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0b64n6s/house-of-maxwell-series-1-episode-2

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0b64nww/house-of-maxwell-series-1-episode-3

Who are you? What are you?

Robert Maxwell.

All life is a choice. And if you want to succeed, you’ve got to commit yourself. Be single-minded. Duty is more important than love. That’s what I was trying to teach my children. The achievement at the end of it is, I feel, my life which I’m continuing to live to the full. And will so, until the day I die. I would have left the world a slightly better place. By having lived in it, and influenced my children in the right direction.

If you are part of the 1% that own pretty much everything and everybody then there’s nothing new happening here. Robert Maxwell, media mogul, father of nine, double agent, triple agent, traitor or spy? Like Richard Nixon he bugged his house and workplace, trusted nobody. Stole around £400 million from the Mirror Pension fund. Committed suicide or murdered?

After Robert Maxwell’s death his assets were sold to pay off his debts. His sons, Kevin and Ian, were involved in the trial of the century (until the youngest member of the Maxwell family Ghislaine was involved in another trail of the century). Both brothers and their sister pleaded innocence. Kevin and Ian were acquitted.  The jury accepted that, even with their father dead, money continued to be siphoned from pension funds. This was not illegal. The prosecution Queen’s Counsel explained it was too complex for little people to understand.

Jeffrey Epstein understood that rich people don’t pay tax. That was his business. Robert Maxwell had dealings with Epstein. Ghislaine was described as his partner. But his preference was for much younger girls. Ghislaine helped procure young girls for sex and servitude. She helped destroy lives, but denied it and played the victim card.

Epstein was jailed for minor sexual offences against young girls. The justice system allowed him time off for being a billionaire. It facilitated more offences and showed the gulf between rich and poor. Laggard, the FBI followed behind civil cases brought against Epstein. Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in custody. In a Congressional hearing, the question was asked, was he on suicide watch. ‘Yes.’ Like Robert Maxwell, murder or suicide?

Ghislaine went into hiding. Her brothers argued the state had a duty of care towards her. She was no threat and should not be remanded. Her victims demanded their day in court. She was convicted on all counts. Her defence counsel cost around $7 million. Of course, they are appealing on her behalf. With time off for good behaviour, she should get out in time to die. The bankrupt Maxwell family will have to find the funds they claim they never had.

Prince Andrew cut a deal with his accuser Virginia Roberts. Ghislaine had tutored her like the other girls not to speak unless spoken to, and to have sex with the Prince. She complied. He denied. He cited a phantom hand that may or may not have been his in a photograph that was certainly him and certainly her, but he didn’t remember when or where. Currently frozen out of Royal duties he awaits public amnesia to match his private amnesia. His friend Jeffrey Epstein didn’t want billionaire paedophile to be written on his tombstone. Paedophile Prince isn’t something the British press is speaking about. Money talks.    

Notes:

Content of Maxwell’s home in Oxford sold off. Knocked down for the public. [episode 2]

600 lots from barbecue forks to antique paintings.

Sotheby’s. Place absolutely packed. People wanted a piece of memorabilia.

Malcolm Gordon (Antique dealer). I came across this lamp. When I lifted this (shade), I saw that, microphones. He was recording everything that was being said about him. This was in his own home. So he wanted to know what his son’s knew. Tells you the true story of the man.

5th November 1991.

 3 hours since Maxwell found dead.

Ian Maxwell. It’s a particularly sad moment because this paper his lost its publisher, its owner and its saviour.

Kevin Maxwell: Love him or hate him. He touched the lives of many, many millions of people. And we’re determined to continue in his tradition.

Body recovered off Tenerife. His family gather on the island.  

Ken Lennox, Mirror photographer. I was in the island to help the family.  A couple of journalists had appeared. Ghislaine Maxwell spoke to them.

Buried Mount of Olives. ‘Dear Dad speech,  (Ian) soldier, publisher, patriot, warrior, globe trotter.  Father of nine children. Grandfather of eight.

Maxwell’s mysterious death. The king is dead. Long live the king.

Did he jump or was he pushed?

Mike Tully, Maxwell’s special assistant. The thing he was most scared of was being bored. The notion of him going aboard alone…I think he did go with the intention of killing himself.

Maxwell family rule out suicide.

Autopsy said it was probably a heart attack.

Was death foul play?

Were intelligence services involved?

Carol Bragoli, Mirror Group Secretary.

It was flying around it could be Mossad. But, you know, it could have been anyone he had dealings with. Defaulted on payment or to bring pressure on. It could have been anyone.

Bronmen Maddox, Financial Times Journalist. Breaks the story of the Maxwell empire collapse. [Management: we’re fucked.]

I was 28, the year Maxwell died, 1991. I had grounding in the numbers. And often the numbers are public. He was mortgaging his assets.

How much debt? And how it was represented. I’d say like Russian dolls, But that was too neat. These were all over the place.

I was ready to go public. Around £1 billion in assets. Owed £3 billion.

5 hours after Maxwell’s death.

Kevin and Ian Maxwell, seen as the brave sons, trying to cope with the loss.

Tip off leads to Mirror raids.

Police swoop on Maxwell’s offices.

Carol Bragoli. I remember the serious fraud squad coming in. I walked in there one morning and they were thugs. The whole thing turned nasty after that.

New York.

Ghislaine. I don’t feel diminished. I’m extremely sad my father is no longer here. But I don’t feel in any way smaller, or less than I was before. I’m me. I’m healthy. Very lucky. And survival means many different things to different people. Survival in my case means getting up in the morning and figuring out a new life. Smiling and being happy. The positive side of things. Life is sad. Very sad. It’s always sad when you lose a parent. But you have to go on. I like to think I’d do something positive. I can’t say what it is right now, because I’m working on it. Until I’ve done it. Then everything it just words.

Q Don’t you feel insecure? About the future.

A: No, I’m lucky. I get to start again.

Vassi Chamberlain, former friend of Ghislaine:

During the 90s, a friend invited me to a party he was having in his house, in Soho. Downtown. And there were lots of people there when I arrived. And I went to sit at this long table. And there was Ghislaine. We looked at each other. And, oh, yeh, we’ve met before?

I’d met her a year previously in London. The thing that marked her out was how extraordinarily friendly she was. How instantly she said her name. She made you feel included. She was very popular because she was charming. And she was opinionated.  And she was funny. This was a different version of the girl I’d met a year previously. A shrunken version. Like she couldn’t quite believe what had happened to her.

Christopher Mason, former friend of Ghislaine.

She invited me over to her apartment. She was talking about her father and was convinced he’d been murdered. She was extraordinarily well-connected, but there was no money. Everything had been plunged into chaos. I told Henry (Kissinger) just watch this space. Come back in a year and watch this space. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but it’s going to be interesting.

4th December 1991 Serious Fraud Office has begun to investigate management of pension funds at Mirror Group newspapers. About £300 million of pensioners’ money could be missing.

Fraud office discovers bombshell.

Ken Lennox, Mirror photographer. Within 3 or 4 days the headline was Maxwell had stolen all the pension money. The whole thing was surreal.

Brownwen Maddox, Financial Times. What became clear very quickly was it was a fraud. And it has happened very fast. Within the last 10 months of Maxwell’s life.

Network of his management holdings very complex. The fraud very simple. Maxwell just took the money. Cash in his companies. Shares in pension funds. He did have the power to legally take those shares and sell them off. On the assurance the money would come back. That never happened.

Beverly Guest, wife of Lawrence. Finance director who tried to act as whistleblower, but silenced.

Suspected something when the Mirror group was floated. Noticed £38 million missing from accounts.

John Pole, Head of Security. (Speaking in 1996) Maxwell was already one step ahead of Lawrence. (bugged phones). Maxwell had an expression,  ‘Trust was like virginity. You only lost it once’.

Certainly if a person was loyal, he would repay that loyalty. And he could be quite ruthless with people that weren’t giving his all, or where disloyal.

Finance Manager, Lawrence Guest was one of his targets (for phone tapping).

Was told it wasn’t his problem. Told auditors but was ignored. But as finance director of a public limited company he felt they had a right to know.

What he suspected was Maxwell was taking money out of the Mirror to pay off private debt for other companies.

Tip of the iceberg. Maxwell plundered more than £400 million. And nobody had the power to stop him.

Carol Bragoli. (secretary)

Told the directors were not to meet each other. Unless there was a Maxwell present. Himself, Ian or Kevin. And my bosses had these clandestine meetings. In which they were passing notes around and not talking. Because I found a few. ‘He knows that we know’.

By that time we knew something was going on. He looked a bit dishevelled. A button off his shirt. And his eating habits, were really, not very nice. He just seemed to think he could do what he liked (and he could). He was becoming very suspicious. He wasn’t trusting anyone. Just reflects on how paranoid he was becoming.

At the Labour Party Conference, Lawrence was advised not to travel by public transport and to travel by different routes every day. (Neil Kinnock).

Then suddenly it was clear one of them had to go. It was Lawrence or Maxwell. Now fireworks takes me right back to the relief.

Ghislaine: My father believed you’ve got to make your own way in life.

Christopher Mason. These were early days in New York. The only people I saw her with at the time were bright Brits, but the next time I saw her, she said she’d met someone staggeringly important. Jeffery Epstein and they were dating. And not only was she dating him. She was working for him. And her job included running all of his properties. The first thing she told you about Jeffrey was that he managed other people’s money and he wouldn’t take anyone worth less than a billion dollars. That was the kind of shorthand to let you know that he was fantastically brilliant.

Jeffrey represented access to private planes and yachts and wealth (like her father had). She would do anything in her power to please him. A bizarre echo of the dynamic between her and her father.

She never told me how she met Jeffrey. And we’re dying to know, now.

Vassi Chamberland. There is a photo. In the Plaza Ballroom. And sitting next to Ghislaine is Jeffery Epstein. That picture was taken 3 weeks after her father died. I think they were already friends. And Ghislaine went to New York to see JE. I’ve always thought to myself there was a reason the relationship was kept so secret. And I think it was in their interest this would never get out. I was working in the City and I had friends who worked in Wall Street at that time. And they heard that an agreement had been reached with Epstein and Robert Maxwell that certain funds had been siphoned off. Because that’s what he was doing at the time. Helping very rich people, park their money offshore to avoid tax.

When Ghislaine was on the boat (Lady Ghislaine) she found some papers were the name Jeffrey Epstein came up. She gave an instruction to the crew to shred all papers with her father’s connection to him.

January 1992.

2 months since Maxwell’s death.

New evidence in Maxwell fraud investigation. Movement of funds out of pension funds – after Robert Maxwell’s death.

Suspicion now falls on Ian and Kevin Maxwell.

Browen Maddox. There was a sense of drama. Kevin and Ian appear before House Select Committee and missing pension funds.

We will not answer any question regarding the pension funds. No matter how many questions this Committee asks this afternoon.

Silence of the sons.

Ken Lennox, Mirror photographer

Kevin and Ian were the two left standing. I got a phone call in Chelsea saying the cops were going to arrest Kevin. You know where he lives. So two plain-clothes cops arrive. Kevin opens the upstairs window and tells them to piss off. Kevin’s led out. Arrested.

Kevin: after a trial by innuendo, I’m looking forward to defending myself in a court of law.

In the run up to the trial he turns to the media. Invtites cameras to tell his side of the story.

Trial of Maxwell Brothers begins at Old Bailey.

Richard Lissack QC Presecution barrister.

The sheer size of the case was enormous. Portrayed in the media as the case of the century. I felt prepared and the allegations we made were sustainable.

Kevin spent 21 days in the witness box.

70 witnesses over 8 months.

Browen Maddox. The trial was complicated. And there was a worry that the jury might not understand the complexity of white-collar crime. So they broke it into pieces. Different bits of fraud. Lots of this was to do with the big picture. Movement of money out of shares, for example, weren’t illegal. Where only illegal if the person conducting the sale knew the money couldn’t come back.

Jury out in Maxwell trial.

Fifth day. No verdict.

Jury deliberation enters 10th day.

Jury out, 11 days. Reached a verdict. Not guilty. (could have spent a decade behind bars).

Christopher Mason (New York) I was at an art opening and I ran into Ghislaine. She seemed in a froth of excitement. I’m going to introduce you to Jeffery. What I noticed was a permanent smirk. As if he had access to information and funds you couldn’t possibly fathom.

And the next time I met him was a deeply weird situation. Ghislaine hired me to write a song for Jeffrey Epstein’s 40th birthday. But she was deeply insistent I could tell nobody about this. I could only talk to her. She would provide me with the information. It had to have these lines. Ghislaine claims he had 24-hour erections. When he was a school teacher at Dalton School, he was the subject of many school-girl crushes. She seemed to know that would resonate with him. And with his friends who would be at this party.

So I arrived at this house. Six guys, his closest associates. It was after dinner, and they were smoking cigars and drinking brandy and I had to do this song for Epstein.

At the time there was a rumour he liked younger women and Ghislaine was introducing them to him. At the time it seemed naïve. Later, sinister.

Palm Beach, Florida.

Kevin Reynolds. JE’s masseur.

I’m sure you’ve got a lot of people that won’t talk to you. But I can’t change the past. This is humanity. This is the way people look the other way. I worked for the New York City police department for 10 years. And you’d think I’d been more savvy as a retired cop. Shouldn’t I have known better? I don’t have an answer.

They’d send a boat to send me out to his island to do massage. It was a nice gig. It was quite a place. Dreamy. To die for. Just a beautiful, beautiful place.

Jeffery was a nice fellow. There was no reason to be suspicious in any way. There was a woman there running around taking care of all sorts of details. Only to find out later that was Ghislaine.

There was a young girl there. I showed her a few moves how to do massage. Based on what I know now, she could have been under 16. That young lady might have suffered for many years under the control of Ghislaine and Jeffrey. I’d like to say, I’m so sorry, I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t know, or I chose not to know.

29th November 2021. Trial of the Century (again).

New York City v Ghislaine Maxwell.  (she allegedly spent $7 million on her defence)

Recruiting young girls to be sexually abused by her now dead partner, JE.

David Boies, Victims’ Lawyer. A case of sex trafficking that destroyed the lives of countless numbers of young women.

People are fascinated by how they got away with it for so long.

Sigrid McCawley, Victms’ lawyer. One thing you don’t to do it allow the suspect back into the street.

Robert Maxwell, Happiness can only be found in hard work. Service to your fellow man. And to your country.

20 years earlier. 2001.

Society Queen charms New York City.

Couri Hay, gossip columnist. My job is to go to parties. I meet people. See what they are doing. See what people don’t want me to see. Because there’s always something going on. I was discovered by Andy Warhol at the tender age of 16 or 17. He gave me my first job. And I started interviewing celebrities. I’ve met everybody. And done a lot of snooping. And I found if you just listen. And people knew you were a storyteller, they found you.

Back in the 90s I was working for …magazines. And that’s when I first me Jeffery and Ghislaine at parties. When she was in a room, she wanted you to know she was in a room, so she performed. She was on. She was effervescent and I felt she knew she was being watched.

JE was another case. He was a bit shy. He didn’t really stand out. So she fulfilled the role of his social director. Almost like his social secretary.

Her little black book was everything to her. And she dealt in the commerce of introduction. She really was a connector. She had this invisible butterfly net. And she’d go out in the social scene in London and New York and she’d capture the beautiful people. The rich, the famous. The powerful. And she had this posh accent. She used her royal rolodex to do that.

Her big card was Prince Andrew. That was her main calling card. Royalty is somewhat unusual, so they all came. There’s no doubt Prince Andrew elevated JE and Ghislaine. It gave them a veneer. She’s in the royal court.

But we just didn’t know. People weren’t paying attention.

30th November 2021.

Day 2 of trial.

Prosecution call four women who were all under 18 and (claim) they were groomed by Maxwell.

Vassi Chamberland. When I think back to the girl I met in 1990 and you tell me this is where her story will end up, I wouldn’t believe you. Why would someone do this?

Why would she hurt other women? But I think you need to go back to the very beginning of this story.

Robert Maxwell was somebody who understood the weakness of people and played on them and used them. Life to him was war.

And from the moment he died. Life became to her, war.

Something twisted in her. She’d lost her father. Ostensibly, lost all her money(?) The shame on the family was huge. And I think she really felt that. I think she left England because she felt that shame. And she was trying to rebuild her life in America.

It’s almost as if she shed her old skin and put on a new one. It was all about being seen in the right house, with the right amount of staff. Flying on private planes. Going to private islands. She had to be seen as powerful. As somebody at the top of the tree. She had to win.

2005.

Palm Beach, Florida.

Spencer Kuvin. Victims’ lawyer. I remember it vividly. A young woman came in with her stepmother and told me what was an incredible story. About an operation in which other young women were being recruited as well as her. To be brought over to this mansion on Palm Beach, Island. She told me there was a wealthy gentleman on the island that was willing to pay these girls $200 -$300 to go and give explicit sexual massages. She was 14 when the incident occurred to her.

Palm Beach Police Department found literally tens of other girls that had been brought to the mansion and sexually abused. Young, very young girls.

Palm Beach Interview 2005.

Police officer. You’re not the only one he’s done this too. I talked to 30-odd girls.

Palm Beach is a very wealthy island. These are the top 100, sometimes in the world. To have winter homes. And I mean by that huge mansions. On a very exclusive and wealthy island.

And there’s West Palm Beach. Which is the main part of Palm Beach County. As you go from the water, out west, you have so much less wealthy individuals. You have people living in trailer homes. What we found was a lot of the girls came from this area. A lot of them had troubled youths. $100 or $200 meant a lot to them.

If a 50 year old man come up in Rolls Royce and ask for a massage, their defences are up. Even at 14, they know to run away. But when a very sophisticated attractive older woman with a British accent approaches and says, ‘hey, you’re beautiful, come back to the house. I know a man that if friendly with the owner of Victoria’s Secret and you would make a beautiful model and we’d love for you to come and pose for us.’

That 14-year-old girl’s defences that ordinarily are up are now down. This is a woman who knew what JE was going to do. She was bringing them into the mouth of the lion. She knew the abuse the girls were going to suffer.

Cape Town, South Africa.

Juliette Bryant

I wanted to be quiet and live my life and forget about it. But I can’t forget about it. I’m tired of feeling ashamed, when I didn’t actually do anything wrong.  And I know I’m one of the lucky ones. And I want to speak for the people that can’t talk anymore, you know.

I was just a young girl with hopes and dreams. And I thought, modelling, you know. One day this beautiful model came up to me and asked if I modelled. I said I’d just started. She said her friend owned Victoria’s Secret and did I want to meet him? Because he could help with my modelling career. And I said, oh, my god. All my dreams are coming true.

We went to show JE my portfolio. I walked into the room and sat opposite him. They said we definitely want to bring you over from South Africa to New York. They pay for my visa. I thought it was going to be the most amazing opportunity of my life. Then they said, pack your bag. We’re going to the Caribbean. I assumed it was for a photo shoot. So I said, immediately, yes.

It was the most beautiful place ever. The turquoise sea. When I first arrived there is was just me. I stayed in a chalet by the pool. I found all these disposable cameras. I took a few photos while I was there. Unusual artwork on the wall. This naked girl and this big walrus and it looked as if this walrus was trying to rape her. Very disturbing. He’d a lot of weird stuff. Pictures of naked girls everywhere. And lots of pictures of Ghislaine naked too.

When I first met Ghislaine I was told she was JE’s girlfriend. But I never seen them hold hands or kiss. Or give each other a hug, to be honest. It definitely wasn’t a romantic relationship.

JE really like watching movies. And while they were there another girl was brought onto the island. And while we were watching she performed a sex act on him. I was absolutely petrified. I was so young and hadn’t seen anything like that. I ran out of the room. And was just crying. I just didn’t know what to do.

There was no getting away. I was in a foreign country. With no cell phone and no money or means of communication.  I just realised I was completely trapped. And there was nothing I could do.

Ghislaine was running the girls. And she’d also tell us when we had to go to his bedroom. We couldn’t say no. There was just no option. We didn’t want to make them angry. Nobody even tried to stand up against them. His bedroom was pitch dark and ice cold.

I just checked out of my body and let him do what he wanted, because I didn’t know what else to do. Tried to escape in my mind. That it wasn’t happening. Things happened there that scarred me so deeply, I can’t even talk about them. He fed off the terror. There was something about that he liked.

He was taking me back and forth over a year and a half. I was so broken; I just went along with it. I went along with anything I suppose. I was being ordered to his bedroom at least three times a day. By that time there was even more girls. I saw at least 60 girls. At least.

I was 20 when I was taken there. I was lucky, because I wasn’t as young as the other girls. It was just like a factory. He was running a machine and Ghislaine Maxwell was operating it.

People ask why I went back. No one disobeyed JE. Before he sent me home, he took me to his office and told me a woman had accused him of rape. He’d had drugs planted in her apartment and had her sent to prison.  And then he said he’d my family’s name on a list. I just did as I was told, because I was petrified of him. Because of who he was. I knew crossing him would be a very bad idea.

I never felt OK after that. Everything fell to pieces. It’s very hard to understand. I’m still trying to piece it together.

16th Decemeber 2021.

Trial, Day 11.

After 2 weeks of evidence for the prosecution, it’s time for Maxwell’s defence. They will try and cast doubt on the victims. Ultimately, it comes down to whether you believe the victims or Ghislaine Maxwell, who has denied all the charges.

They are expected to try and paint Maxwell as a victim, herself.

Kevin Maxwell, press conference and goes on the offensive.  Our sister has been in pre-trial detention for 522 days. She is in the care of the Department of Justice. You really have got to ask yourself in 2021 what are they doing shackling a 59-year-old woman in this way, every day. When she represents absolutely no threat to the community. And so what we are asking for is for them to live up to the duty of care they owe to an innocent person, who is presumed innocent, until a verdict comes in. Ultimately, the only one that can help is you guys, for it’s simply unacceptable.  You wouldn’t want it to happen to your mother, your sister, your girlfriend. Enough is enough. This has got to stop.

15 years earlier.

2006

Palm Beach, Florida.

Spencer Kuvin. Victims’ lawyer.

When you have a hunter, he’s going to go after the weakest in the pack. And that’s what JE and Maxwell thrived on. Hunting the weakest.  In an effort to discourage them from talking, they thoroughly dug into the lives of these young girls. Some of my clients would tell me they had cars that were following them down the street. To and from school. They had vehicles that would show up late at night and shine lights into their bedroom window. They had random phone calls that were called at their homes. It was really unbelievable. So we reached out to the Palm Beach Police Department. And that’s when things began to really take off.

Police raid $18 million, Palm Beach mansion.

They went in, but found it highly like JE had been tipped off to the investigation. When they arrived at the home there were numerous things that were missing. Like security cameras and hard-drives for computers.  

But there were certain things they were able to find and seize. Phone books and message pads. Numerous messages to young girls that were under age. Messages about how and when JE was going to be in town. What his schedule was. When they could come over to the house. Hard evidence of what was going on at home. And it was at that time that they put together what they felt was a very solid case to prosecute JE and to turn that over to the State Attorney in Palm Beach.

JE arrested.

FBI investigates billionaire’s sex crimes.

There was a certain expectation that the feds would be able to spread out the investigation beyond Palm Beach, to New York and even his private island.

So there was a very great hope this would lead to JE behind bars for a very long time. If not forever.

FBI identify 36 potential victims.

Then all of a sudden I get a call, JE is at the courthouse and he’s giving a plea. No one had told me or my clients about this. No one had told the victims there was a potential deal in the works. It was shocking that JE’s lawyers went up to the judge and had a private conversation that nobody could hear what they were talking about.

I mean, there’s that sinking feeling as a lawyer that something is going on.  And now it’s been hidden from everybody else.

I’ve been practicing law for 25-26 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen an arraignment like that before.

JE pleads guilty to only 2 charges.

Under this deal he was supposed to spend at least a year in the County lock-ups in Palm Beach. But his lawyers applied for release during the day, so he could go to an office building. He would stay the day there and get catered lunches. People would come and visit him. Young girls. And at the end of the day he’d drive back to jail. And stay the night.

This is a man that is supposed to be behind bars for molesting and abusing over 40 young girls. He was essentially spending nights in jail. And that was about it.

It was incredibly disheartening at the time.

To have to explain to my clients, the extent to which the system let them down.

JE’s reputation hits rock bottom. But he’s released.

‘New chapter in his life’.

JE turns to New York PR guru.

Couri Hay, gossip columnist/ crisis management adviser.

I knew exactly what people wanted. They wanted to be in the papers. They wanted to be in the glossy magazines. And I knew how to do it. And I could do that for them. The problem is sometimes these people get in trouble.

After the conviction, JE calls me. My office freaked out. It was embarrassing. I put my tie on and trotted over to the house. Because I wanted to see the house. This very grand house, supposedly worth $77 million. And there’s this very grand foyer, with this big curving staircase. I did notice about the house there was a lot of very heavy velvet drapes. Better to keep out the sunlight.

We sat down. He asked me what we should do. And I’d no intention of representing him and I never did. He never paid me.

He said to me what I don’t really want is to have ‘paedophile billionaire’ inscribed on my tombstone. Every story starts out with ‘paedophile billionaire’.

In some cases you just can’t do it. It starts with really showing contrition. Confessing. You know with the highest power on earth (The Pope).

Why don’t I get you an audience with the Pope?

But, of course, he’s already thought of that years ago (and had the meeting).

So why don’t you give money? There’s an art’s foundation and people have given lots and lots of money to, you know, white-wash their image.

So Ghislaine, of course, started her own charity. Potentially, or possibly, but she was really only helping herself.

‘Love the oceans. Love your planet. For generations to come—Make a difference’.

Charm offensive. But two lawyers unconvinced.

They were digging behind the public facades. Staggered by what they discovered.

Sigrid McCawley. Victims’ lawyer. The scale of the sex trafficking operation was unbelievable. They were bringing in up to three different girls a day at times. They did it everywhere they went. New York. Florida. Travelling overseas they would do it. It was constant. It never stopped.

David Boies, Victims’ lawyer.

They had people recruiting young girls from Eastern Europe. England and France. All over the world.  We have two young women we represent, who were abused by the JE sex trafficking. They were both recruited within the same month.

One was recruited in South Africa. One was recruited in Los Angeles, California.

Teresa Helm

I was a young adult. Stars in my eyes. Ready to take on the world. High hopes. Big dreams. Once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m being flown out to New York. I would be met at the airport. A driver with my name on a sign. That was thrilling. You know…I’m to meet Ms Maxwell at her home. The outside is beautiful. And I knock on the door. I walk into this big, beautiful room. I notice a framed picture on the wall of her and ex-President Bill Clinton. And I thought, you know, wow.

A few moments later, out she comes. She said I was going to meet her partner, JE. She looked right at me and said, ‘Make sure you give Jeffrey what he wants. Because Jeffrey always gets what he wants.’

Ghislaine knew what was going to happen to me. She set me up to walk into a predator’s house. Where he assaulted me. She knew what was going to happen. You don’t facilitate and organise one of the largest sex-trafficking organisations in the world without intentionally knowing what you are doing. And without intentionally playing your role. And not only intentionally, but very masterfully. She did it very well.

Ghislaine Maxwell changed the entire trajectory of my life. And years later I decided I needed to do something . I began communicating with the FBI and my wonderful lawyer,  Sigrid McCawley.

Lawyers file Civil Cases for multiple victims.

FBI re-investigate JE.

Thursday morning, I’d plugged my phone in to charge. And when I did, I accidentally swiped to the news headlines that popped up. And there was his face. It was Jeffrey.

Sex-trafficking and molesting underage girls.

Sigrid McCawley

To have him actually arrested was monumental. For me and the women I represent. That moment it felt really powerful. They’re starting to see the light of justice.

10th August 2019.

JE death ruled suicide. Hanged himself with a bedsheet in his Manhattan jail cell.

Senate Judiciary Jury hearing session.

Was Mr Epstein on suicide watch?

Yes, he was.

Clearly, it didn’t work here. We await the report. All the victims of Mr Epstein have their heart ripped out. Never see justice.

Sigrid McCawley

When JE died that was traumatic news for the women I represented. They had hoped to see him in court. To be charged with all the crimes he had committed. I was very angry that had been taken away from them.

Even before JE passed away. I was very hopeful prosecutors would continue to prosecute people. Including, of course, Ghislaine Maxwell.

20th December 2021.

Day 13 trial.

After nearly 3 weeks the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell is drawing to a close. The defence and prosecution make their closing arguments. One of Maxwell’s friends it there to witness the final chapter.

Christopher Mason, former friend.

One hears about despicable crimes and terrible criminals.  There’s an added lair when it’s somebody you know, or thought you knew, but never really knew. So it’s strangely compelling. If she’s been horribly misjudged and, you know, there’s some plausible explanation that she be found not guilty. Fascinating to see if that’s possible. Seems so improbable. Perhaps the truth will eventually emerge.

Fascinating day in court. And so, completely, what I was not expecting.  When I arrived this morning, from everything I’d read I supposed Ghislaine Maxwell was going away for a very long time. But when the defence spoke, they did a very good job. I have to say I’m really shocked. It’s the last thing I’m expecting. To come away thinking that Ghislaine had some chance of evading…

Jurys have to decide what version of events to believe. We may get one by Chistmas. Which is Ghislaine Maxwell’s sixtieth birthday.

2 years earlier.

With Epstein confirmed dead. And the US authorities turning their attention to Maxwell, in the UK, the spotlight fell on one of her old friends,  Prince Andrew.

Buckingham Palace.

Nigel Rosser, Journalist.

Ghislaine had always known Andrew. But in 2001-2002, she suddenly became Andrew’s best friend. I think they went on holiday together about eight times. It had been noted the Prince Andrew was partying quite a lot. I was a journalist on the Evening Standard, and was told there seemed to be something odd going on here, can you look into it. The more I looked into it the more I saw Ghislaine Maxwell was inextricably linked to these parties and holidays, Prince Andrew had gone on. They formed this very strong symbiotic relationship. My headline was ‘Andrew’s fixer’: ‘She’s the daughter of Robert Maxwell’. ‘And she’s manipulating his jet-set life-style’.

The more I got into it, the more I realised, JE was always in the background.

BBC Newnight.

Q At 2000, JE was a guest at Windsor Castle. And at Sandringham he was brought right into the Royal (circle) family at your invitation.

Prince Andrew (cuts in) Yes, but, at my invitation. Not at the Royal family’s invitation. But remember it was his girlfriend that was the key element in this.

Nigel Rosser, Journalist

Prince Andrew for some reason allowed himself to be persuaded to succumb to a fifty minute interview. I remember thinking who has advised him to do this?

Q One of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts has made allegations against you. She says, she met you in 2001. She dined with you. She danced with you at Tramp nightclub in London. She went on to have sex with you, in a house in Belgravia belonging to Ghislaine Maxwell, your friend. Your response?

Prince Andrew: I have no recollection of every meeting this lady. None whatsoever.

Q You’ve seen the photograph(s)? How do you explain that?

Prince Andrew: I’ve seen the photographs. I can’t. I have absolutely no memory of that photograph ever being taken. 

Nigel Rosser, Journalist

The photograph is taken in Ghislaine’s Mews House. Ghislaine is to the one side, sort of grinning. You can see the flash reflected in the window. It’s almost certain the photo was taken by Epstein.

Prince Andrew (interview) I’m not entirely convinced…That is me in the picture…We can’t be certain that’s my hand on her…whatever it is, left side.

Two weeks later, Panorama. Virginia Roberts gave her account of that evening.

Virginia Roberts. He knows what happened. I know what happened. And there’s only one of us telling the truth. And I know that’s me.

Ghislaine Maxwell’s house, London.

That day we were having tea. Andrew is talking about Fergie, who is his ex-wife at that point. And Ghislaine is bad-mouthing Fergie, as well. Epstein is socially awkward so he’s just laughing about everything. I’m just sitting there. As I was told to do. Sit there and don’t talk. Unless you’re talked to. Ghislaine tells me I have to do for Andrew what I have to do for Jeffrey. And that made me sick.

There is a bath. And it led to the bedroom. But it didn’t last long. The whole entire procedure. It was disgusting. He got up and said ‘Thanks’ and walked out.

I sat there in bed and felt horrified and dirty and ashamed. I had to get up and have a shower. And next day Ghislaine tells me I did a real good job. Patted me on the back and said you made him very happy…[cries] It was a wicked time in my life. It was a really scary time in my life.

2nd July 2020.

Ghislaine Maxwell arrested by the FBI in New Hampshire. Six counts of serial sexual abuse and trafficking of minors.

Maxwell jailed. Awaits trial.

Judgement Day.

29th December 2021.

The jury in Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial has been out for five days. And there’s still no verdict.

Juliette Bryant

If the verdict is not guilty, people will be very angry, but not surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised if she walks free.

Teresa Helm

It’s hugely important she gets found guilty, because the world is not a safe place with her in it.

Verdict: Guilty.

Maxwell’s lawyer. We firmly believe in Ghislaine’s innocence. We’ve already started working on the appeal. And we are confident she will be vindicated.

Ian Maxwell (talking on Sky News)I’ve know my sister for sixty years. I choose to believe my sister’s view of events.  I don’t think she’s capable of those charges she’s been convicted for. She’s been scapegoated from a system that was flawed from the start. She has not had justice.

Victims’ lawyer, David Boies

It’s been a long road. Longer than it should have been. There are many people who knew about this and kept silent. And could not have existed, in the scale it existed, in the time it existed, without the participation of very rich and powerful people. It was about money. It was about power. It was about [corruption]

Ghislaine Maxwell awaits sentencing. She faces a prison term of up to 65 years.

Juliette Bryant

I never thought it would happen. These people have a way of getting away with [it] for so many years. We’ve got to keep them away so they can’t harm other people. And the people are waking up to the truth.

Teresa Helm

Why didn’t you take your positon of power and do something good with it? Why didn’t you do something positive in the world? What a waste.

Ghislaine Maxwell.

My father believed you’ve got to make your own way in life. It would be marvellous to emulate some of the marvellous things he did with his life. That’d be great.

Robert Maxwell.

All life is a choice. And if you want to succeed, you’ve got to commit yourself. Be single-minded. Duty is more important than love. That’s what I was trying to teach my children. The achievement at the end of it is, I feel, my life which I’m continuing to live to the full. And will so, until the day I die. I would have left the world a slightly better place. By having lived in it, and influenced my children in the right direction.

Storyville, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Tango with Putin, Directed, written and produced by Vera Krichevskaya 

Storyville, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Tango with Putin, Directed, written and produced by Vera Krichevskaya 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00156cw/storyville-tango-with-putin?page=1

Memory is always being subverted. Tango with Putin begins with the Muscovite fairy-tale princess and her pink car looking for a prince. Natasha and Sasha…and they lived happily ever after in their castle.

James Cameron (reporting on the North Vietnamese):

‘They whispered that I was their dupe, but what they really meant was I was not their dupe.’  

The princess wants a toy to play with. And Sasha buys her a television station.

Ecclesiastes: ‘Who gathers knowledge, gathers pain’.

Starvation as a weapon of war. Stalinist policies kill between four and ten million in the Ukraine. War is called peace and stabilisation.

Ashkhabad, a crossroad that became a town when a Russian fort was built in 1881 to help break the Turkmen’s resistance to annexation, disappears in fifteen seconds in 1948. The Turks constitute the largest language group in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  An earthquake wipes out the city. Only the statue of Lenin remained.

Advisors from The Chicago School came to advise the Communist government how to initiate change in post-Gorbachev Russia. Shares. Every Russian citizen should have shares in the former dead-hand of the Russian economy and state enterprises. ‘You pretend to pay us and we’ll pretend to work’ is the Russian way of life. Job done in the free-market Russian economy. With their new-found shared wealth, former Soviets invested in new businesses.  They all lived happily ever after.

Maps of the world. American National Geographic Society cut the USSR in half place it in the fold where no child could find it. Moscow’s Institute of Geography prints a different map. Putin’s map shows Russia in a central spot. Former Soviet States in the middle. The United States is an appendage, cut in half and down to size.

Russia has a shrinking and ageing population. From 150 million 1914 to around 140 million. Natural wastage. Around 20 million, a generation lost in The Great Patriotic War. Around 24 million ethnic Russian’s live outside the former Soviet System, but not all is lost. It maintains the criterion of blood purity. Russia for Russians. Muscovites queued for hours to enter Lenin’s mausoleum. Another queue formed to get hamburgers, ketchup, fries and Coke. They came together. Closing McDonalds in Moscow helps maintain imperial isolation. Paradoxically, the second element is land. But the more land the former Soviet States claim, the greater the dilatation of Russian ethic purity. Ukraine provides an ideal fix. Population 44 million. The former breadbasket of Russia (and Germany) is ethnically pure. Many of the battles fought in the Great Patriotic War were fought in and around Ukraine. Many Russian troops that died and continued to die in wars such as Afghanistan were also Ukrainian.  You will see old Ukrainian comrades in news reports disparaging Putin’s claims that the Ukrainian people are Neo-Nazis or terrorists.

Stalin’s road to heaven. An ounce of gold is worth an ounce of bread. Auschwitz, Treblinka, Hiroshima, (Kolyma) Magadan. 11th November 1931, the Central Committee of the Communist Party create a trust to mine for gold, silver and other metals in Siberia. 160 gulags. Three million slaves don’t make it home. Permafrost maintains the expression on their faces when they died.

Russian’s console themselves, ‘Don’t despair, it was worse in Kolyma’.

There are no heroes in the camps, only survivors. Slave labour creates the long corridors underneath the Kremlin, Moscow Underground and Ukrainian Underground. Deep enough to shelter from bomb blasts, but not intrigues. The Georgian Stalin tried to destroy the old Moscow, but succeeded in only creating the new Moscow on the bones of the old.

Perestroika stretches only as far as the Kremlin walls: six comrades protest in Red Square about the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968. No one asks a victim of the gulags were they have been for five, ten, twenty or twenty-five years. To ask questions is to leave yourself open to answers. Spies and informers are part of the state apparatus. Only those in power ask questions. The guilty are punished. The innocent fare worse for they have committed no crime. Truth is relative. Hunger ever-present.  Minsk to Pinsk.  Identification of comrade citizens is no longer easy. Mass deportations, famine, colonisation.  Some regard themselves as Georgian, but not Russian. Chechen, but not Russian. Ingush, but not Russian. Uzbek, but not Russian. East German, but German. Ukrainian but not Russian.  

The bounty system. The NKVD would inform locals when a prisoner had escaped from the camps. Bring a prisoner’s hand to match their fingerprints. Their reward was a sack of flour. Political prisoners were gullible. He would be taken along with a group of escaping prisoners and eaten. One less political. They lived happily ever after.

T.D. Allman: ‘Genuinely objective journalism not only gets the facts right, it gets the meanings of events right. It is compelling not only today, but stands the test of time. It is validated not only by ‘reliable sources’ but the unfolding of history.’      

Notes.

Jim Morrison: ‘Whoever controls the media controls the mind.’

By the end of Vladimir Putin’s second term in 2008, all Russian television was under state control.

Before this story begun, I spent 15 years working on independent television. News and political talkshows were my main passions. After all independent television had been destroyed in my country, I found myself at this house, where I spent many months in discussion of a new enterprise.

Putin 2009. [Cheering] The elections for the President of Russia are over. And our candidate, Dmitry Medvedev, is clearly in the lead.

Back in 2008, Russia still looked like a land of business opportunity.  For Natasha Sindeeva, the owner of that white mansion and this pink car, every road was another adventure.  And every adventure was her excuse for another party.

The top executive of a Moscow music radio station, Natasha was the dancing queen of the city. 

In Putin’s Russia, former music radio producer Natasha Sindeeva dreams of becoming famous and decides to build her own TV station to focus on pop culture.

‘Without any false modesty, I’m going to sing and dance. So be prepared to be sick of me on stage, today. Because today is all about me Natasha Sindeeva.’

Natasha knew how to make things up. She even dreamed up a husband, to be precise—a prince. I remember this moment. I was falling asleep, thinking: ‘I’ve been so good. I deserve a prince. To love me and cherish me. To bring flowers and gifts. A handsome, tall, smart guy with character. I literally painted Sasha’s portrait in my mind.

Their wedding was a literal palace. The Russian Versailles. Natasha spun around the fountains with the world-famous Russian ballet behind her.

And there was a new president too: Dmitry Medvedev. Just like Natasha he saw the world through rose or rather pink coloured glasses, but his partner was more czar than prince.

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

Do you remember when he was asked about the most important thing in life?

Suddenly, the Russian President said ‘Love’.   If we had a president that talked about love being the most important thing Russia would be a perfect country. But he enjoyed it. Here’s my iPhone, here’s my iPad. Here I am meeting with American entrepreneurs. He enjoyed being the good guy.

Dmitry Medvedev:’ The principle of freedom is better than non-freedom. These words are a distillation of human experience.’

It seems naïve now, but when I watched that clip I wanted to cry. Like: ‘Look Americans, this is what our President is like’.

There was no room for politics in my life. We didn’t vote. We just didn’t.

The economy was booming, as if on steroids. It seemed that anything was possible. It was going to keep growing. 

Sasha made money banking, during Russia’s boom years and could finance a crazy idea. So Natasha had one. To build her very own tv empire. And that’s where I came in.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

We started at the most expensive real estate uptown (Moscow). Natasha loved the view.

I remember having talks with Natasha. ‘Why isn’t there tv for normal people, why don’t we make it?’ That’s how it started. It was as simple as that.

What’s the date today? Ah,  the 30th. It’s July 30th. The 31st. 2008 and our television station is on its way to being built.

Here it was. The American Dream. The definition of a start-up. ‘Where’s your business plan?’ We’ll finish our business plan later. That’s the reality we lived at the time.

Natasha was a big dreamer. She already had a name and colour palette for her tv station.

DOZHD: Optimistic Channel.

Big, obnoxious.

That was the first time fate intervened.

Radio broadcast: What’s happening on Wall Street… traders say…

Sasha’s bank had not survived the recession of 2008. And from uptown we came down to earth and downtown.

Downtown Moscow. The cheapest building… in ‘Red October’. An old chocolate factory named after the revolution of 1917. Our floor smelled of caramel and rats.

I love that. Those incredible pillars and windows. So the sofas could go here. We thought so too… We’re going to have a TV station. We’re going to do this.

‘All the elements are based on truth, this real life.’

So everything and everybody must be themselves as much as possible. Life must be as authentic as possible.

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter.  Executive Director.

We came to the office to meet Natasha. And then at one point, this girl walks in and gives Natasha this bundle. Natasha takes this new baby and opens her shirt. And without missing a beat, Natasha starts breastfeeding her. I understood immediately these were great people. I really liked them.

Anna Anya Mongayt. (Journalist)

That was the first time I saw Natasha in person. She made a great impression on me because she was only wearing purple. Purple knee-high boots. Purple leggings. And a purple sweater. And she was wearing this ring with a huge stone.

Right away she made a big impression on me.

They switched on all the lights at once above our main news desk. From afar it looked like an operation table that was incredibly bright. There are people all around the table. The cameras are rolling. The screens are on. Vera  is yelling out orders from the control room. So it looks like we’re going to have a tv station after all.

In English, ‘Dozhd’ translates as rain, TV rain.

Only God knows why Natasha picked that name. In truth, the most accurate name for this enterprise… would have been The Adventure Channel.

April 2010 [opens] Dozhd TV goes on air.

The first broadcast looked hideous. Totally DIY.

I was afraid of running into my old colleagues from the real tv stations.

We were the industry’s biggest joke. But Natasha loved it. The parties I hated were great from the start.

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

When the project started, Natasha knew nothing about tv news. How it works. What it’s for. And so on… her initial concept was very different. She wanted to have lots of nice conversations. Things like that.

Statement: Regardless of sexual orientation. Regardless of age. Regardless of health conditions. Of hair and eye colour. Of faith and political views. We are always yours.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

When I came to Dozhd, I instantly felt not to lie to myself. To be honest with myself. Because at that point I was still accepting myself as gay. 

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

I had ten years’ experience reporting from war zones. I wanted…I don’t know, I wanted an adventure.

Apparent suicide bombing in the hall of the Domodedovo Airport. On TV, people are outraged the CNN and Twitter already has images. Apparently 70 dead. While Russian channels, federal channels have nothing.

Suddenly we found ourself in a different reality to other tv stations. Sometimes I felt that we lived in two disparate countries. The news we talked about were ignored by all State controlled media as if it didn’t happen.

In the last year of President Medvedev’s term we launched a weekly sketch show in which, with the help of the classics of Russian poetry, we staged scenes between the President and his  Prime Minister Putin.

And True Glory came. Our audience doubled every week. In April, 2011, we lauched a new episode of our viral show in which our father of the nation, Putin, decides not to give his heir Medvedev a second term.   

…But the episode never went live.

Natasha:

Because I think there are boundaries of constructive criticism. And occasionally drift towards personal criticism. That crossed the line. So I found it impossible to broadcast.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

Everybody on social media shamed us for selling out. Federal media popped champagne. Opposition activists turned of Dozhd. I saw it as self-censorship. Then, in two weeks, I learned that President Medvedev wanted to visit out humble station.  At that point, I felt we had run out of independence. Natasha was busy preparing for the visit. But, for me, it was the end of our fairytale. Then I quit.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

When the broadcast finished [after Medvedev’s visit] we all had the feeling of having done well. And I remember for the rest of that week, I would come to work and see people crying at their desks. Our audience thought this was all part of some big pact. Natasha kills our satire show in order to host Medvedev as a guest.  Vera quit in protest. And now we’re all playing Judas…For Natasha, it wasn’t a pact.

Q to Natasha. What did you say to Medvedev?

A You’re a really cool dude. You should run for re-election.

CONGRESS

Medvedev : ‘I think it’s right that Congress should support the candidacy of our party leader, Vladimir Putin for the post of president of our country. 

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

Now, I’m going to scare you a bit. The thaw is over Medvedev represented political moderation. Now the screws will be tightened.

We’re living inside an experiment. An experiment in stopping time. Is it possible to survive 12 more years without change?

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

So I just hoped. Little by little, things would improve. That hope turned out to be completely naïve. It’s a shame, my hopes. All my hopes were wasted on this.    

4 December 2011.

Legislative Elections 

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

The parliamentary elections are coming up. There are no battles. And the only way out I could think of was to get credentials [Parliamentary] for all our editorial staff. I got them all accredited as members of the electoral commissions at various polling stations.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

‘Hi Misha, I’ve only got a minute, we’ve opened the first electoral ballot box. There are stacks of 9-10 votes for United Russia that are for sure cast together. We’ve just found 3 huge stacks, 20 ballots wrapped in other’s ballots. Wonderful.   There’s no way to drop those in together by accident.

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

When I went to that protest [against Putin] I expected to see some weird people, to feel a little awkward or even scared. But many of the people I found there were my friends. They’d say, ‘Hi, so, you’re here as well. Look—so and so is here too’.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

Ironically, Sasha and I ended up in the same crowd. I was shooting my first documentary at the protest. Sasha was led there by voter fraud.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

The last thing we heard was one of our Dozhd reporter, Ilya Vasyunin was arrested.  We’re still trying to reach him now. We can see him in the police van. We should reach him soon.

Anna Anya Mongayt. (Journalist)

You said it was normal to be running from a police van.

Natasha

At first, I thought it would be a cultural, intellectual, lifestyle channel. But when I began to learn more, when I found myself on this wave of information, I realised just how much injustice was around us, which I hadn’t seen before. I honestly didn’t see it. Didn’t know it existed. I couldn’t keep not having an opinion about it.  

Cable audience grows exponentially (over 8 million).

When the protests started, Mr Gromov, an official from Putin’s administration called me for the first time.  He was screaming at me, ‘What do you think you are doing? How dare you! You’re spreading US State Department lies.

I remember I told him, ‘You know, I don’t work for you. I’m not part of the state media. We work in the way we think is right.’ 

Then he said, ‘We’ll ruin you.’ Something like that. It was a very nasty conversation.

6th May 2012.

Boris Nemtsov, opposition politician.

Today, Putin proved that he was elected illegally. The sheer number of special forces and military. This hasn’t happened in the centre of Moscow since 1993.

[crowd chanting: New elections]

Timur Olvesky, war correspondent.

My first live broadcast was at the elections on May 6th with everything that happened there.

‘It looks like a stampede. Nobody is planning to leave. They are breaking through police cordons. Unfortunately, I can’t see what’s happening.

[Pulled down from his platform by riot police]

Polina Koslovskya  Digital Director. 

It looks like Boris Nemtsov is getting arrested too. The stream is unavailable. No one expected us to be attacked like that. At the time, it was the job from hell. Because I was negotiating with different platforms. So that people could watch our broadcasts. On other websites if they got hit. So during life broadcasts most of the work we had to do was sending people to the right website on time. The cyber-attacks always came. We were sure they would come and we couldn’t avoid them.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

I clearly remember May 6th, Putins third inauguration. That was the day I switched on Dozsd again. 

Our online broadcast has partially stopped. I’ll remind you that today we have been cyber-attacked. The station I’d left just didn’t tell you what’s really happening around you, it also makes you feel less alone.

Q Natasha what are you afraid of?

A I’m afraid that after all the effort and emotions invested into this, something out of control it gets closed down, dies, or gets taken away. I don’t know. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I just don’t want it to happen. Because I’ve put a lot of personal feelings into this. There’s a lot of my heart in this.

3rd Inauguration: Stately event.

Cf

Protest and chants, ‘Russia will be free.’

11th June 2013.

The law criminalising ‘gay propaganda’ passes with just one abstention.

The lives of many Russians will change. The problem with these homosexual propaganda laws is that for the first time in Russian history they are legally introducing the idea of the second-class citizen.

This law touched Dozhd more than other organisations. The newly inscribed second-class citizens made up more than half the team. When the bill was passed, it hurt us all.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

When the Afisha issue came with my interview came out, I was very afraid. Back then, I think, I was the first person with some level of recognition. To publicly come out as gay. And among journalists I was probably the first. Really, I should have approved the interview with Natasha Sideeva or Misha Zygar. I was, after all, a face on the station. The station had stuck my face onto buses as part of a promo campaign. Natasha took me into her office. Sasha, her husband, was there.  They hugged me, poured me a glass of wine. Sasha brought out a copy of the magazine he had found and asked for my autograph. I signed it. Then they told me I did the right thing. And I burst into tears. 

Natasha.

If nothing bad happens with advertising budget, maybe this year we’ll break even.

 Sasha, her husband

By the summer of 2013, we had essentially reached out goal. The station was popular. Many advertisers were eager to work with us.

Anna Anya Mongayt. (Journalist)

We were the voice of a new era.   People admired us. We felt like the media of the future.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

In  interviews with prospective employees would say, ‘what we are offering is not a job. We’re offering you a dream. ‘

Behind me is the ‘Sosny’ Holiday Homes Cooperative. The gates of which just closed on our camera crew. Holiday homes owned by Vyacheslav Volodin, Putin’s First Deputy.  Chief of Staff, Sergey Prihodka, Head of the Government Apparatus. And prominent United Russian Party members.

Aleksei Navalny (Opposition Leader)

We’re demanding that all of these people explain where they got their money for such luxurious lifestyles. Where did they get that money?    

The level of luxuries they have is not at all compatible with their actual incomes.

KYIV [loud explosion]

Meanwhile, at the independence square, protests continue. They are targeting the Ukrainian government, which refused to sign the deal with the European Union.

[Ukrainian protester] Please tell Russians that we are not against them. We are not against you. Not against Russians. We love them. We just don’t love Putin. That’s all.   

Timur Olvesky, war correspondent.

I realised we were witnessing an event that was not only historical but one that was also determining our future. And I begged Misha to send me there.

From Kviv.

We have a breaking story. Both sides are firing live rounds. Some have been detained. It’s an absolute shitstorm over here. It’s a real war.

19th June 2014 was the first fight on Kyiv’s streets. At that point, everything split into Russian reporters on federal TV who’d talk about fascists burning down the SWAT teams, and Dozhd which covered it from a different angle.    

6 Days later (25th June)

Natasha:

Good afternoon,  It’s 8.37pm, you’re watching  amateurs broadcasting live.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

On the day, the show’s theme was the anniversary of the Leningrad siege ending. They mentioned this quote by a great Russian general, Victor Astafyev

‘Maybe Leningrad should have been given to the Nazis, so that thousands of lives could have been saved.’

[cf Moscow given to Napoleon]

Natasha:

Should Leningrad been given to the Nazis to avoid hundreds of thousands of deaths?  Should it?

[commentator,  people can answer this?]

Yes, I understand there’s already a debate on twitter.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

An avalanche falls.

[announcement on air]

About an hour ago, Dozhd tv was dropped from the NTZ and cable package. Dozhd was replaced onscreen by darkness. 

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

Nobody thought they would use it as a pretext to shut us down.

[screenshot of other stations] this question was morally and ethically beyond the pale for other people. The station crossed the line of what is acceptable.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief

The next day, on Tuesday, I think the State Parliament releases a statement chastising Dozhd tv. And on Wednesday, the expulsions begun.

‘Hello, my name is Anna Mongayt. Today I’m hosting the show ‘Online’. Our plan was to devote this hour to the life to Sochi in the lead up to the Olympics. But the situation has changed. Today, for the first time, the show will be devoted only to ourselves.’

It was interactive tv, you’d talk only to people that called in.

‘Can you hear me?’

When I started the show, all the providers were carrying us. But by the time I finished the show, everybody had dropped us.

[cable audience around 8 million drops exponentially to around 60 000 listeners]

A short break while we tell you who else has switched off Dozhd. 

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

That night for the first time since I left, I called Natasha. Sasha picked up the phone. They were hosting a late-night meeting with the newsroom at home. Natasha was smoking in silence. In one day they had lost most of their 80% of their audience and most of their advertisers.  Right away, we began again. We started to brainstorm new plans. It was like we had never split up.

Renat Davletgildeev interview on Dozhd with Natasha.

What is going on? What is happening now?

They were looking for some excuse, and now, it seem, we have given them one. In confidential conversations, meaning off the record, for all these providers told us today that they were ordered to find any excuse—technical, ideological, commercial, legal—to terminate these contracts with us. And  everyone who switched us off, confirmed it, just not as a public statement.

[cut to Putin announcement]

‘Dozhd is an interesting station. With a good young team. But, as you said yourself, one that’s made some mistakes. To put it bluntly, not simple mistakes, but an offence to many of our citizens. But you need to own up to it, which you’ve done, and figure out how to proceed.’

Renat Davletgildeev

‘Today we’re holding a press conference for Dozhd TV’s CEO Natalia Sindeeva. And Dozh TV’s investor  Aleksandr Sasha Vinokurov.’

Anna Mongayt

I could tell how difficult it was for Natasha. She was a mess. She looked as pale as a ghost. You could see it was hard for her because it was all about to collapse.  All of Sasha’s fortune had gone into it. You could see how hard it was on their relationship. She was completely lost. She’d come to work grief-stricken. Looking like a widow.

Q ‘Arkady Orstrovsky, The Economist Magazine: ‘Will you appeal to Vladimir Putin without whose approval this expulsion likely wouldn’t have happened?

A Natasha: I think in that situation I would appeal to Putin, because I will fight to the end for this station, for this business, for this baby, for the right to work in an independent media.

I remember being at their house. Sasha always grilled steaks. Natasha always danced around the pool. We drank champagne with strawberries and imagined our TV future. I recited chapters of the Russian Constitution on citizens’ freedoms and quoted Harvey Milk on the need to fight for your rights. Natasha kept saying: ‘We won’t lose anything.’ We were so fucking stupid.

Sasha.

An opportunity came to sell the house. Without a second thought we invested the money into the station. We sold several properties. 

Natasha.

What happened, yes, consequentially led to all doors closing for Sasha. He’s become toxic because he is owner of Dozhd tv.

Sasha

There came a point when we had almost no money left for ourselves.   When we trimmed our expenses down, life became more fun.

Natasha.

For Sasha, the bad consequences of the station are elsewhere.  For Sasha…he lost me.

[report]

Mr Putin, Anton Zhelnov,  Dozhd TV, the key tv players cable and satellite providers are saying there is no command, the situation’s getting worse.

Putin: Maybe they’re fooling you. You think I give commands to cable people and all your advertisers?

Q Well, they’re saying abstractly. There’s no command, so may I ask, who this command has come from?

Putin: I don’t know. I don’t give such commands. I didn’t tell the cable providers to stop working with you and I don’t think I have the right to tell them to start working with you.

Q You work with them you yourself?

[cut to Natasha]

As of now, we have a month left to live. These are not just words. We have to shut down in a month. There’s a little bit of hope in today’s staff meeting, where I will ask the whole team if I can cut their pay and our expenses by quite a lot. If the team agrees we might be able to last another two or three months. So much as I’d like it to be, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

PAYWALL.

Anya Mongayt

It’s a pressing topic for us here, because we have decided to take some unusual measures. So, why is Dozhd going to sell its content?

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

The audience paying for our content gives us freedom.  It provides independence. What we’re putting behind the paywall is the live broadcast: $26 for annual subscription.

That’s something you’re probably going to miss, but it will be reasonably priced.

Anya Mongayt

It’s truly a way for us to be independent.  It’s a new way for us to survive. If you are in the same boat, you’ll understand why we are doing this.

[cut to]

What? When are we going on air? Anya get ready.

July 2014.

News feature on the shooting down of a Malaysian passenger plane. Ad lib. Responsibilty give an advanced surface to air missile to terrorist fighting against Ukraine in Ukraine who did not understand the system.

[cut to]

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

Natasha has gone on vacation. Summer.

And suddenly, real combat operations begin in Donbass. And the first information comes in about Russian soldiers participating in real combat operations. I tasked all Dozhd staff with calling all Army recruitment offices to find out whether any Russian soldiers had been killed in Donbass. And to find out their last names.  

[in office]

Renat Davletgildeev

We are making a list of people to call urgently. Some of them possibly on air.  

[cut to Putin]

So the question is, ‘Is our army present in Ukraine or not?’ I’ll answer you directly. The Russian Army is not present in Ukraine.

[cut to] Timur Olvesky, war correspondent.

Also today, reports of strange disappearances of Russian soldiers. Reports are coming from other cities. On this list: Saratov, Kostroma, Pskov. Our reporters are trying to find out how many soldiers were buried in the town’s cemeteries. 

Today, my colleagues and I, and other journalists were repeatedly attacked after trying to talk to the families of the people most likely being buried in Pskov’s cemetaries.

[cut to Army reservist jumps in front of their car]

What do we do?

Wait. What do they want?

[voice outside the car] they will break your camera.

You slashed our tyres.

Guys! We’re leaving.

They’ve slashed our tyres. We’re being attacked. We can’t drive away. I was asked to come here. Wait. Wait. Wait. We’re being attacked by two young unknown men who have threatened us. The said there are many bogs around Pskov and that if we continue asking questions we’ll simply disappear.

[cut to]

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

Natasha has come back from holiday and asks me: ‘Am I imagining things, I was walking here from home and this black car seemed to be following me as if I’m being tailed.

I say, you know, I don’t think you are making it up. Look, this is what we’re up to.  

[cut to news]

Today, a Ukrainian press centre posted videos of four Russian soldiers captured by Zarleny village, near Donetsk.

[cut to press conference featuring a roomful of captured Russian soldiers]

[address them] ‘Hello, I’m Timor Olevsky,  a reporter from Russia’s Dozhd TV.

Q When did you understand who had detained you?

A When we were captured, we were told we were on Ukraine’s territory and were being held captive.

[fellow captive]

A  We didn’t know what was going on here. So we believed what the news showed.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

We saw a jump in subscribers form around 15 000 to 50 000 in four days.

A month later, we got evicted. 

Natasha.

Option 1, we get our stuff together and move somewhere, where? Option 1 is to move to some factory.    

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

The idea of eviction at first seemed incomprehensible. It seemed terrifying for it to come true. If we got evicted we’d completely perish.

[cut to]

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

I never again became part of the team, but I always stayed close. At that point, I realised how much I wanted to help Dozhd survive. In between my filmmaking projects, I try to make up for lost time. Back then, our goal was to keep the news on air, no matter what. But how? We had absolutely nowhere to go.

[cut to newroom]

My name is Mikhail Fishman. It’s 8pm on the 31st October  and I’m hosting the last ever broadcast from this great Dozhd studio.

I was thinking about what these years at Dozhd means to me.  I can tell you one thing, that it’s clear to me after all these years that Dozhd is a big deal and will be around a long time. Why am I alone? Come along. Join me guys.

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

We would drive around looking at places for days on end. Five or six places a day. Someone from our side would start the initial discussions. Everything would be a good fit, then—the size, the price, the condition. Then we’d tell them we were an actual TV station. That was the moment they’d understand who we really were. 

Two days later, we’d get a ‘no’.

This was right before Natasha was planning to go to the United States.

[cut to]

I really miss everyone. Life is really hard over here.

[rejoinder]

I’ve heard life overseas is hard. Don’t know why you even bother going. Should have stayed with us.

It’s awful, the way they treat black people. Terrible.

Natasha, let’s talk business because there’s a ton of people here and we need to get moving on schedules.

[cut to]

Natasha

This was the first time I’d given up hope. I said, ‘That’s it. I can’t beat the machine.’

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

So, one night, I called Natasha, I had this idea. I said, I know a place that’s perfect from a legal point of view. We can move in and nobody can stop us.

The view. That’s the Patriarch’s Pond there. Cool. Right?

Yeah.

This was Natasha’s flat in Central Moscow, which was not just unsuitable for a studio, but even for family life, because it was very much a bachelor pad. So, I go to this apartment with our engineers.

[cut to]

The mattress. Let’s lean it a bit.

That’s it.

We go into the bedroom and I say, ‘This will be the control room.’

Dec 2014

Natasha’s Appartment.

Secret Office.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

In the same building, the floor below Dozhd, housed an illegal brothel. Just like that. Two of the world’s oldest professions accidentally collided in the heart of Moscow. In a building owned by the Ministry of Defence.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

Stop, Stop my friends, us posing a legal issue.  We’re gonna invite guest here. Roughly, every third guest will rat us out to everyone. But the KGB will find out about this on Tuesday…They already know. That’s all.

[cut to]

It’s 1.31 pm in Moscow. You’re watching Dozhd TV. Presenter Masha Makeeva.

Hello, we were stopped the Anti-Corruption Office where we are sitting on a windowsill next to Aleksei Navalny

I wanted to say, I’m very happy to be in your studio again.

But I’m very happy you dropped in and today our studio is a windowsill.

Natasha

I could feel a provocation coming on. People were afraid to leave the office at night. And my intuition came true. I called Forsch in the evening and said, Anna, pack up the studio, ASAP, I feel some shit’s going to happen.

Natasha to workforce.

The locks were covered in some sort of resin. They were shoved full of bolts. Basically, it took professionals, four hours to open the doors. No one has left us yet. Just as they are watching us, they still are. When it comes to work, we don’t have issues. But everything to do with your personal or political stuff…Just keep in mind it might become public.

[cut to]

Toast. A new life.

February 2015.  

Flacon

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

Miracles happened to us all the time. Our new office found us by itself. I got a call. ‘Hello, We’ve got a 1000 square meters and we know you’re Dozhd.’

I said. ‘OK, when can I come for a viewing?’

‘How about right now?’

‘Of course.’

We had to move everything ourselves. We didn’t have a moving company. It was just us. Misha was here, carrying boxes.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

We would always say we became very much like a cult. That we all felt this familiar cultish atmosphere.  It wasn’t a cult in the name of Natasha. It was in the name of… I don’t know. The name of freedom.

Anya Mongayt

People got lost here. Their whole life is here. Few people here have functional families.

Evgeniya  ‘Zhenya’ Voskoboynikovia (Journalist)

At some point you stop distinguishing your work from your life. And you don’t notice the moment of this transition.

Natasha.

Hello, this is Dozhd TV, from our new home and location.

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

It wasn’t just for Natasha to keep her dream project. It wasn’t about her dream. It was mainly about saving [Dozhd]  as a source of information. It was for the cause. We had to save our cause.

Evgeniya  ‘Zhenya’ Voskoboynikovia (Journalist)

I want my country to look like the faces of these people. I think this is important.

[cut to]

Natasha.

Well, to a happy new life for us in Flacon.

Timor Olevsky

After that we were a family. Just a family.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

We are the chosen ones. Everyone wanted to be us.

Alexei ‘Alien’ Navalny.

Nadya ‘Alien’ Pussyriot.

Natasha ‘Alien’ Sindeeva.

Attention! Foreign Agents.

Putin:

We’re ready to talk to the opposition. We’ll continue to have a partnership with civic society, in the most expansive meaning. We always listen to everyone who constructively criticises any action or inaction of the government. That is on, any level. This kind of dialogue, this partnership, is always healthy. They are absolutely necessary for any country, including our own.

[cut to]

Dozhd is back with an emergency broadcast. My name is Vladimir Romensky. We’re currently on Moscow City centre on Zamoskyvorosky bridge, where Boris Nemtsov has been murdered. He was shot, it’s not yet known by whom, right on this spot

[cut to newsroom]

I’m Pavel Lobkov here with the main news. Boris Nemtsov’s murder.

Natasha

There was a point when I got scared and I thought: This place is wide open and I don’t have security guards.   I do everything myself. For a while I lived with this fear. And the fear ate me alive. I kept looking back in case I was being followed, or somebody was waiting for me. I don’t dwell on it because I don’t know how to change my life so that it doesn’t happen. Probably, shut down the station and leave the country. So I don’t think about it. If anything, I’m afraid to think about it, because if I do, it will definitely happen.

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

When the battle is over When you’ve carried all the wounded to the rear and fixed them up.  It’s over. And now you don’t know what to do next.

All the boys and girls. All the young hipsters have all gone grey. All the ‘light’ news pisses them off. Civilian life pisses them off.

Natasha.

We all started to have conflicts. We all started to hate each other. That was it, when we met at briefings, it was impossible.

[cut to broadcast] Pavel Lobkov

Q to Natasha.

There’s a sense of despair, I’m not going to be positive. I’m not going to say everything is great here. I want to say that we’re sick. We’re sick with narcissism. And all of this dancing. You can’t fake that smile for five years. We had good times, but like we had this pigskin-pink colour. Enough. There’s a dissonance now.

Natasha.

We’re not trying to replace serious journalism, and what we do with dancing. Nothing has changed. You know this.

[cut to outside broadcast, face against a police van window]

‘Russia without Putin! Russia without Putin!’ 

Excuse me I’m on Dozhd TV, could you please tell me if you’re being released today? [faces camera] Unfortunately, the police aren’t talking to us yet, but we’re still here.  Just to remind everybody, there’s eight of us here. It’s unclear what will happen next.

Natasha

In a county of 140 million, only 60 000 are willing to pay for independent news. The paywall keeps Dozhd alive. But you cannot change the world with such a small audience. Over these five years we won small battles, but the war was lost.  Our grand adventure failed to change the world for the better. As long as you are invisible behind a paywall and never break even, you are not a threat to the state.

Evgeniya  ‘Zhenya’ Voskoboynikovia (Journalist)

We are all really believed in this bright future.  It hasn’t come. It’s time to admit it.

Anya Mongayt

I recently watched a film about the great Russian writer Sorokin. It has this very depressing but spot-on phrases. He says: ‘Russia shouldn’t hope for things to get better in the future. Russia’s present is Russia’s future.’

[cut to Putin and dog, barking in front of two Japanese dignitaries. Putin gives the dog a treat. ]

Anya Mongayt

She gathered us all in a room and said, ‘You have to make me happy’.  She said, ‘If you don’t make me happy in a year. I’ll shut the whole damn thing down.’ 

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Kozreyv, Music Programming Producer: TV-Host.

I took it in the most pessimistic light. Maybe the last deadline had already past. And the decision to sell us off was fast approaching.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

It felt like the end. ‘If this is it,’ I said to Natasha, ‘I’m going to film it.’  But, as always with Dozhd, nothing went according to plan.

July 2019.

Moscow Summer Protests.

[cut to] We are unarmed. We are unarmed. ‘Hello to all Dozhd veiwers from this police van to which I was admitted during the process against the barring of opposition candidates from participating in Moscow City Council elections.

[cut to] PROTEST FOR ALLOWING INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES TO RUN FOR OFFICE.

We are unarmed. We are unarmed [chant]

[cut to newsroom and back to protest]

Masha we are going to leave you a second to go to Romensky. Right-now, they are trying to destroy the sit-in. People are being grabbed.

[cut to Natasha in studio]

We decided to hold this emergency broadcast late last night.

[cut to protest]

‘I’m a reporter. I’m a reporter.’

Natasha

We saw this was all completely lawless and unjust.  And realised we had to do something. So, we’re taking down the paywall for our  broadcasts.

Today you’ll be allowed to watch Fishman’s show for free. Please share and talk about it.

[cut to crowd, Fishman’s show]

‘They were pushing forward very roughly. Still, I’d never seen anything like this.’

Fishman:

We must be very open. We must be accessible. We must report things as we see them. This is our social mission as journalists, if you will.

After opening of paywall figures jumped. 18 000 viewers to 25 million (roughly). 

Anya.

Sorry to interrupt [coverage] but Dozhd TV is being raided. You can see it live. Police have entered our offices.  Right next to Natasha Sindeeva there are policemen, who are talking to her as we speak.  

There’s a cyber-attack happening against all of Dozhd’s internet channels. We have no internet connection. We can’t stream pictures from Trubanya Street or anything else that requires the internet.

Natasha.

[cut to] Hello Dad, sorry, did I wake you?

No worries.

I just thought I’d call. You must have read the news. I wanted to call, so that you didn’t worry. You were called in for questioning? You got a subpoena? I’m on my way to the Investigative Committee. Don’t worry, it’s about the protests.

OK. Thanks for calling. Good luck and good bye.

To say I was nervous was an understatement. This was my first time. This was my baptism of fire. This was my first subpoena, even with all of Dozhd’s difficult years and situations. 

In the morning at  the Investigative Committee my hands were sweating. This had never happened before.

[cut to Natash outside and her report]

I can tell you first they asked about how we covered the protests on July 27th. How we worked and who funded Dozhd TV. That’s it. There weren’t any other questions.

Q You came as a witness on the case? A witness?

[cut to Anya in studio]

The Moscow case isn’t over for our television station. Today, Natasha Sindeeva was called in for another interrogation  

Sasha.

I was worried. Of course. And the kids were even more worried. Because they didn’t understand what was going on. The night before, we had a long conversation about it. What to watch out for. What her strengths and weaknesses are. What to be wary of, what not to worry about, what to expect.

Natasha.

I was nervous. I didn’t sleep all night. I’d never been that scared before.

Sasha

It’s very difficult to decide what’s important to do in life—go to war and die heroically? Or live a long live and die from some common sickness? Both scenarios are possible for a person, or a TV station.  

December 2019.  

Natasha.

Right now people are unsubscribing for two reasons. First, they’re dissatisfied with the content etc, but that’s only a small part of it.

Second, people don’t have time of Dozhd. They don’t watch it, because they can’t find time.

?

Honestly, for the last few years I’ve had this feeling not only of stagnation, but of death This slow, horrible death, of this station, we all love.

?

If the most optimal way to reach our goal is to kill Dozhd, we need to kill it.

[cut to Natasha at home]

I’m awake at 4am yet again. I can’t sleep. It’s either old age or nerves. Dozhd is the thing that never lets you rest. You’re constantly thinking of where to find the money for all this.

At the beginning of 2019, I set myself a goal. By April 2020. Dozhd’d 10th birthday, I have to answer for myself. Only for myself. This question: What do I want to do with all this? I don’t know how I will answer this question in April.

Sasha believes closing the company is one of the best options. So that it just doesn’t die quietly, you know. But things can’t continue the way they are now.

Sasha

Selling the station to a media group is out of the question. We haven’t lived through our last ten years to end with a shitty thing like that.

Natasha

Sasha asked me, ‘Imagine you don’t have a TV station. It’s all good. Everything is calm. What do you do now?’

And I said, ‘I want to do the tango’.

[cut to Natasha doing the tango in a studio with a young male dancer]

Sasha.

Of course, I want to be the top priority for my wife and kids. But that’s extremely egotistical. It’s stupid and impossible. This is about our relationship. Not Dozhd. Even if not Dozhd, ‘Dancing with Stars’, or something else would have taken her, if not Dozhd. I just wish she could be next to me more often.

Natasha.

It’s unexpectedly hard to clap for yourself and to record. What I’m to say, I feel I must record it. Against the background of discussions and next moves etc. While all this was going on, last night I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sometimes I think everything happens for a reason. Maybe it’s time for me to stop and think about what’s really important. Are you prepared to sacrifice yourself for some mission or goal?

Where do your priorities lie?

Or, at the very least, this is a chance for me to stop and think.

Anya.

Dozhd means so much—socially, emotionally, historically—that if Natasha decides to shut it down, people won’t forgive her.  If, at a certain point, she decided to pull the plug, she will be always be remembered as the person that killed Dozhd. And not even Putin wants that honour.

February 2020.

Freiburg, Germany.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

Natasha had never been away from Russia this long. She decided to take a break from the news.

Natasha.

I don’t miss it at all. You know I was guided by illusions. For quite a long time, I hoped things would change. But my optimism has run out. I’m not saying that I’m depressed all the time, but…yeah, I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that Putin is here to stay. He’ll be in power as long as he lives. I can’t say I know what to do with the rest of my life. But it’s definitely something I’m thinking about a lot.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

On our way to radiotherapy we found out that Vladimir Putin announced new constitutional amendments that let him stay in power until 2036, when Natasha will be 65. 

[cut to Putin]

Our duty is to protect the Constitution. To respect it, as we respect our country, our history and our accomplishments.

2003.

[cut to Putin speech]

I oppose anyone—however good their intentions—violating the Constitution of our country.

I repeat myself, we should protect the Constituion. I oppose any changes to it.

2007

[cut to Putin speech]

Amending the Constitution to serve a specific person is, I think, wrong.

2018

[cut to Putin speech]

I have never altered the Constitution. I wouldn’t do it for myself, and I don’t plan to, even today.

2020

 [cut to Putin speech]

I repeat once again, these amendments have been necessary for a long time, and I’m sure they’ll be useful to this country and its citizens.

Natasha [radiotherapy for her breast cancer]

You understand that nothing’s happening, things are getting worse. You just have to figure out how to live and exist in this. I think we live in a world that is so inverted, unfortunately, where our people get bullied, locked up, arrested, punished, killed, and persecuted and so on. There are very few of them. These people, us who fall prey to this machine. There are few of them. And, in that case, yes, you have to stick with each other. It’s very important. And not to betray your people. Is this journalistic? Probably not. Human. Yes.

I have remained human for ten years, and have never betrayed myself and my values. That’s more important to me. I don’t care whether I remain in history as an unprofessional media manager. But I remained a human with compassion, conscience and responsibility. 

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

When we shot the interview, she took breaks every twenty minutes to wash off the sweat. Still, the first thing she did when she got to Germany was finding a local tango teacher.

[cut to Natasha dancing a tango with her teacher]

The worse she felt the more she thought about dancing. Her goal was to ‘master the tango with tricks’ before she returned to Moscow.

April 2020.

 Moscow.

What is really going on in the hospitals and in the regions?

Natasha.

Right now, journalists are like doctors. They’ve ended up in the frontlines. Just like doctors have, although neither of them wanted to be. For journalists, this moment calls for an act of bravery.  

I completely stopped thinking about what I’ve been thinking about for the past year. About where I should go, leave, stay, or shut this down. I’ve gained a better understanding of why we need Dozhd and why we need to work. Our task to explain that to people, to be a guide in this complex situation. You know, when they cut out this sickness, it felt like they cut out something unnecessary. Something bad has left and I feel lighter inside. And I think, or need even think, I know that Dozhd needs to exist.

[cut to Moscow office]

Natasha.

[champagne] have you looked inside the fridge.

What’s in there?

It’s very beautiful in there. Though there’s less already.

[with friends]

Natasha.

I’ve lost weight. Got in shape. I feel great, I’m ready to fight. I really want to work and think we’re entering another good phase. So, I invite everyone to have a drink. Please make sure everyone has a drink.

[toast]

So to us. We haven’t been together in a while.

Natasha.

Today is 17th June, 2020. And there’s less than 2 weeks until the referendum.  I just got a call from the editor-in-chief, who said the police were at Dozhd. To question one of our reporters, who’s been investigating online voter fraud. 

Sasha

They can shut the station down at any time. They can put all sorts of pressure on us, literally. Even something directed at the owners of the station. I don’t think anyone doubts that for a second.

Moscow. Eve of the Constitution Referendum, June 2020.

Why won’t they tell people honestly that you want to rule over Russia for 36 years—7 years longer than Stalin? And two years longer than Catherine the Great? [broadcaster]

Natasha.

We want to release this at 3pm, alongside Putin’s address.

Today?

Yes, today.

We’ve grown up. Who are we to know who to love? No. [broadcaster]

Natasha

Hello. Hello, take this [camera phone] I’m here to vote on the constitutional amendments.  Let me take this selfie[shot]?   That’s it. Ballot paper and vote (camera shot) Not sure if it’s visible?

[cut to outside polling station]

Of course, this is all for show. The amendments have already been approved. I don’t really know why I bothered, but since this is the first time in a long time I’ve got the opportunity to say, ‘NO’ to tick that box. I decided to go.

Sasha.

I decided not to vote. The main reason is that I don’t think the state can be changed by some kind of flashmob. I don’t think it will be changed by elections. It will be changed in some other way.

Results are as follows: YES 77.92%. NO 21.27%.

Natasha.

Dozhd. So for the first time in ten years we’re celebrating in this zoom format.

The station changed us in many ways. The station and the changing times. Being in the middle of all these events and movements really changed us and the way we viewed life. What is or isn’t important. 

So, here’s the station, right. I think it had quite an effect on, among others, how we evolved as a family, as individuals, as Sasha, and I.

I think Sasha doesn’t regret it either. And believes all of it was done right.

Q) Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

Is Dozhd the right kind of investment or the right kind of loss?

A The right kind of loss.  

Sasha

She regards this as her life’s work. Not a responsibility, not a burden, but her life’s work. And if it’s your life’s work, you have to do it well. You need to somehow see it through to the end.

Natasha.

This is my life, Vera. I now understand this is my life, you know. I’m now at a place where I can say, this is my life. And this is how I’m living it.

After the summer of 2020, Dozhd intensified its news coverage and started publishing on YouTube for free. There, broadcasts quickly reached tens of millions and quickly allowed Dozhd to pay off its debts.

In May 2021, Dozhd was banned from the Kremlin’s press corps, ‘for covering the protests in support of Alexey Navalny’.

In August 2021, a month before the Parliamentary elections, the Russian Ministry of Justice labelled Dozhd as ‘a foreign agent’.

In February 2022, Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

In March 2022, after six days of live coverage of the war in Ukraine, the Russian government shut Dozhd down again. Its new is available in Russia again as long as YouTube is available in Russia.

Natasha and Sasha have separated.

Tango with Putin charts Natasha’s journey, from building the station, Dozhd, to recruiting an open-minded team of outcasts who find themselves reporting on some of the biggest and most controversial stories of the day while trying to protect independent journalism in their country.

Storyville, Try Harder, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, directed by Debbie Lum.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0014j4m/storyville-try-harder

I’m unfamiliar with the American college application process. It’s a big country, but modelled, in theory, so school-test scores determine which colleges will accept students. The American dream is a quite simple belief that if you work hard you’ll get your just rewards. Student, Tina Zheng, for example, plans to be a brain surgeon.

The adolescents featured in this documentary stay mostly tight-lipped. Their collective goal is to get into an Ivy League College. Harvard is mentioned. Stanford College features as a possibility, but with less than five percent chance of gaining entry. And UCLA. They are all A+ students. Rachel Schmidt’s test-scores, for example, put her in the top 1% in America. Alvan Cai’s mum and dad come from Taiwan. They do everything for their son. Test scores in Taiwan determine a boy’s future. They have left nothing to chance. But Alvan worries that his parents are out of step. Offering vouchers for food or the pictures or even a red envelope with God knows in it might be regarded as bribery by college administrators. UCLA, for example, receive over 102 000 applicants to study at their college every year. That number is growing and increasingly most applicants will have A+ grade to have a realistic chance to be considered.

Granada’s documentary series 7UP, a World in Action special in 1964 had much the same premise. The Jesuit dictum:  ‘Give me the boy and I’ll give you the man’. Director Michael Apted is dead now, but I think we are up to 64UP.  It was classified a snapshot of social class. Looking at it a life-time later, it went pretty much as expected. Those Eton-educated kids with marbles in their mouths did prosper and did go to Oxbridge Universities.  

Debbie Lum has her viewfinder not so much on class but race and ethnicity. San Francisco’s Lowell High School is a hothouse of the super-smart. The majority of whom are one of the fastest growing proportion of the American immigrant population—Asian Americans. Ivy League colleges their teachers warn them view high-test scores from Lowell students as a given, but question whether such students can think for themselves. Viewing them as robotic. In other words, such institutions are inherently racist, but without acknowledging, for example, college quota’s for Jewish students that were in place until the 1950s. Black students, of course, had their own colleges.

Class bias is often race in disguise. In 21UP, for example, the Yorkshire son of a farmer told how his cohort in university assumed he’d be stupid because of the way he spoke and the accent he used. Similarly, Rachel Schmidt who has a black mother may be smarter than most, even at Lowell, but her successful application to Stanford College was due to her being black. Asian Americans adopting the arguments of the far-right white groups that would send them back to wherever, because it didn’t really matter. The only thing that did matter for Neo-Nazis was they weren’t white and therefore couldn’t be right. In fact, were stupid. In the land of the free, Richard Powers,  Overstory, characterisation: ‘The immigrant’s son yields to the disease of improvement before there is an effective cure’.     

Storyville, Misha and the Wolves, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Writer and Director Sam Hobkinson.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00142bh/storyville-misha-and-the-wolves

Jessica Brody, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel takes lessons from screenwriters.. The Hero’s journey. The ‘shard of glass’. ‘A psychological wound that has been festering beneath the surface of your hero for a long time.’

The moron’s moron, for example, a narcissistic psychopath with a troubled childhood that lies, lies and lies again. He hooks up a band of far-right fundamentalist Christians and other far-right hate groups until he begins to believe everything he says must be true because they’re saying it too. Find support from the Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin, and Kremlin backed ability to produce propaganda and hatebomb through Facebook, predominantly. And he gets elected the 45th American President.  

Misha Defonseca stood up in her local synagogue in the early 1990s and told an extraordinary story about Holocaust survival and triumph. The shard of glass was shown, and people wept. Jane Daniel owned a small publishing company in Millis. She urged Misha to write her story down. For around two years Misha refused, but then the true hero finds his/her truth, and she writes her extraordinary story.

Jane Daniel’s recognised its potential for commercial value. Because not only was it Holocaust literature, which generally sold well, but it had a Save-the- Cat-type twist. Misha, the seven-year-old heroine, trudged from her Belgian home in search of her parents. She was befriended by a she-wolf in the forest and became part of the wolf pack living off scraps of meat, and distrustful of humans.

Misha and the Wolves published April 1997, Mt. Ivy Press, Boston. It sells reasonably well internationally and at home. Oprah Winfrey comes calling. A spot on Oprah’s Book Club, Jane Daniel’s explains guarantees over a million sales. Disney talk about making a film of the book. A virtuous circle of sales and publicity. Win-win.

Lose-lose. Misha balks at going on Oprah. She sues Jane Daniels for return of her book rights.  

Middlesex Superior Court, Massachusetts, August 2001. Jane Daniels is shown to have deposited money in the tax haven of Turks Cacao (beloved of crooks and internet giants)  which she never paid royalties, and which she disputes. After a ten-day trial, the jury found for Misha on all counts and awarded her $22.5 million damages.  

The Hero may not be as simple as you think, Save the Cat advises writers.

ACT 2. The Hero decides to accept the call to action.  The Hero ‘shard of glass’ is the court judgement against her. Jane Daniel takes on the world of Misha and the Wolves. She assembles a team and cast of characters to help her.

ACT 3. Setbacks and false defeats. The HERO triumphs. But there is a sting in the tale. Trump gets elected President, fails to win re-election and commits treason. His supporters attempt to stage a right-wing coup.

Misha does not go to live with the wolves, but is fed to the wolves.  

  Deborah Dwork (The Holocaust Historian) I think we would like to believe that [the moron’s moron Donald Trump] Misha Defonseca believed. That [he]she was a survivor of the Holocaust [electoral fraud]. I think we would like to believe that we were not so naïve. That we believed it, because she believed it. And we would even like to believe that this narrative has a redemptive purpose. Because it made right the wrong of her childhood. I think it’s nonsense. There is no redemptive purpose. We were so naïve. It was all a fabrication. 

Evelyne Haendel: ‘It’s human to believe. Creditability is something else. It’s your need to question things or not that will help you discern what’s true and what’s not.’ 

NOTES:

There’s a saying in Millis, small-town big family. We became friends with Maurice and Misha. Belgian refugees. Eccentric personality. I never saw anybody that had such a relationship with animals and had so many cats. She told me about her life, during the war.

Misha was waiting for her father to pick her up from school. And he never came. A woman tapped her on the shoulder and said ‘Come with me’. She was taken into a family that she didn’t know. She was given a new name and different clothes.

When she was only seven years old she walked alone through Nazi occupied countries. Across thousands of miles in search of her deported parents.

Misha: ‘I never discovered my parents or where they went to. To this day, I do not know’

I was asked to speak about my story. Temple Beth Torah. My husband convinced me to do it. Saying it would free me. When I went up to the Beema. I realised I was going to speak for the first time. I burst into tears. And slowly, snatches. I began to tell.

The dramatic tale of a woman whose Holocaust memoir took the world by storm, but a fallout with her publisher – who turned detective – revealed an audacious deception created to hide a darker truth.

Karen Schulman (The Friend) I was mesmerised. I had tears in my eyes. She was hungry. She was thirsty. She was cold. She wanted her parents. How did this person (this little girl) survive?

‘If they think I’m alive, I can’t let them down. I have to keep going.’

You could hear a pin drop. Everyone was entranced with her story. I never expected to hear what I heard. When Misha was seven her parents were arrested by the Nazis. And she was told they’d been deported. She was place in the care of a Catholic family. Called De Wael. It was a safe place. They gave her a new identity. Monique De Wael. The deception saved her, but she felt very alienated there.

‘I ended up in a family that didn’t love me. That’s the least you could say. They hated me there. They would call me ‘worthless’ ’.

There was a grandfather in the family that was kindly. ‘He told me, my parents were in Germany.’

‘He showed me with a compass, that Germany was in the East. So Germany didn’t seem that far.’

At that point Misha made a tremendous decision. It turned her life upside down.

She decided at the age of seven to walk to Germany, to find her parents.

So she took her compass and some supplies and started walking. Heading East.

‘I know exactly what to do. I need the basic. I need food. Something to drink. To have a light for protection. ‘

‘The first night I slept under a bridge. It was not far from home.’

‘Each time I approach a village, I see the station.’

She had to hide from the Nazis. Being alone in the forest. Having to steal food. Freezing temperatures. She had been traumatised by this.

‘Killing. I saw killing. The dead people. It was really desperate. I dreamed of seeing my parents. So I stayed deep in the woods. Away from the war.’

When she was away from the woods, she was away from people being sent to concentration camps. She was away from the horror that was happening in the cities. She was with birds and flowers. She said that was what saved her.

‘I completely gave into the wild life. I saw animals living normally. Eating just what they need. Not more than they need.’

‘With animals I didn’t need any words. We were near each other, in silence. And understood, without words.’

 Jane Daniel. (The publisher). I was thinking this would make a fascinating book.  I had a small publishing company. And I mean tiny. And I was looking around for new project. I was the one that said, can we take this public?  Take it to another level?

I could make something big out of this. There’s a market for this story. Because it had an amazing twist.

‘I remember, I’d just been called by a farmer who saw me stealing food from his farm. I run away, full of fear. When you run away, you run very hard. Suddenly, I had the impression somebody was watching me. I turn around and see this magnificent animal. To me it was like a huge dog. The wolf seemed alone. And I needed a companion. It was a beautiful grey she-wolf. I look in my bag for something to eat. And I give a piece to the wolf, which it doesn’t take.

It takes a long time. But after a while, we would walk in parallel. I was able to see its generosity. To see the strength it had. I was able to live with it. She was like a mother to me.

Much later, it was a whole pack of wolves. I don’t know how long I was with them. They accepted and protected me.’

 Jonni Soffron. The Wolf Expert. Wow, this is quite a story. Misha was very different from most people I met. She should have been an animal. Or her spirit is an animal. We talked about being accepted by the pack, but treated as a low-ranking member. And she had to exhibit low-ranking behaviour, in order to be with them.

Misha said, typically, the alpha male would eat first. The others would lay around the carcase waiting for their turn. They would leave little scraps, in close proximity to where she was, when they were finished.

‘Wolves eat 10kg, in one meal. The leftovers were more than enough for me.’

We became very good friends. She visited multiple times. She would hand-feed them the pieces of meat. I think they sensed in Misha, she was a friend, as opposed to a foe. She had such a sense of being with them. It was as if she belonged in there.

‘I had no reason to stop walking. It’s what I done every day. Day after day. Month after month. I hoped to find my parents. Figuring, if I’d survived as a child. My parents must have survived. This belief helps me continue.’

Jane Daniel, Publisher. This is a moral narrative The battle between good and evil. The innocent child and the evil Nazis. And the child survived. It had mythic qualities. It could take my little publishing company to a world-wide happening. So I asked Misha if she would be interested in publishing her stories.

‘With everything I went through, I learned to mistrust people.’

I don’t think she was very impressed with me. There was no reason she should be. The only book I’d published before was a legal-financial book. Not exactly her thing.

‘For more than 2 years I refused. But my friends and community said to me “Misha, do it” for future generations.’

‘I found myself in hell, again.’

It was a painful process, but it was as if she was compelled to tell her story. As if it was some kind of catharsis. Everyone was stepping up. All over the world we were selling the translation rights. My agent came back from California and said “Disney wants this. Period”.  This was the case of a hot property.

When the book was published April 1997, Mt. Ivy Press, Boston.  I said, let’s see if we can get Oprah to do this.  Oprah had her book club. If you were one of her books, you had a guaranteed sale of one million books. They said they were interested. So that’s a big, big deal. And we’re beginning to say, we’re heading into a monster bestseller here. (Misha, The Memoir of the Holocaust Years)

Jonni Soffron. The Wolf Expert. Jane Daniels said they (Oprah) wanted to send a crew and film Misha in the wolves. So I said , yeh. (Wolf Hollow in Ipswich).  I told Misha before we went into the enclosue, “This is an adult wolf. He’s a very big boy. His name is Pedro.’

Jane Daniel, Publisher. Nobody went in but Misha. The sound man had his boom over the fence. Misha squatted down and she’s feed the wolf. Everything is going fine. The wolf is very friendly. And then the wolf decided to put its paws up on her shoulders.

Jonni Soffron. Pedro was much taller than she.

Jane Daniel. Then all of a sudden, very quickly opened his mouth and put her whole head in his mouth. Very gently. Fangs on both temples.

‘I had no fear. Nobody talk about  the big bad wolf to me.’

Jane Daniel: The wolf held her head for a minute. We stopped breathing. Then just as fast as it happened, it was over. At that point, Misha appears and lets out a big howl. At this point I get goosebumps. Way back in the pen, we hear an owww coming back.

Jonni Soffron. When she howled, they immediately howled back. 

Jane Daniel: There it was, you could immediately see the connection between the human and wolf. I saw it. It was amazing. A shocking moment. So they got a really lot of interesting footage. I thought this is going to make a great Oprah show. The next step was she was to go to Chicago for the studio portion.

Jonni Soffron. Things were going swimmingly well. Then I began to see some tension between Misha and Jane.

Karen Schulman (The Friend) It wasn’t very pleasant as time went on. The book wasn’t selling very well. She kept saying “I have no money. I have nothing. Jane Daniels is no good.” I felt saddened. But Misha was sitting at my table one night and said to me: “She didn’t want to go on Oprah Winfrey”.  I said, gee Misha. I don’t understand that.

Pat Cunnigham. (The Neighbour). Well Misha and Maurice were having financial difficulties. Then she started selling things from her house. I felt bad, they were losing everything.

Jane Daniel: All of a sudden Misha is not co-operative. Had one objection after another. Doesn’t return phone calls. She doesn’t want to go. It’s inconvenient. She needs somebody to take care of her animals at home.

‘Jane made me so mad. So insecure. My husband said many times. “We’re a survivor. You don’t use that kind of attitude”.

Jane Daniel. Come on, it’s Oprah. You find a dog sitter or pet sitter, or whatever. You make yourself available. “No!”

‘The bad memory came back. I had a nightmare. I was very anxious.’

I tried everything. I wrote her notes: This is a million sales. “No, No, No”.  I thought this is crazy. Any other author would be falling over themselves to do this. It never happened.

A year after the book came out, there’s a knock on the door. And I’m handed a big package. It’s Misha filing a lawsuit against me. Everything stopped. No other country wanted to do business with us. We had a lawsuit attached to this project.

Romana Hamblin (The Attorney) The first time I met Misha, I felt very compelled by the circumstances of the case. It was clear to me that several things had been done that were improper, illegal, fraudulent.

Misha was asking for return of the copyright. And for all of the royalties which she was due for book sales.

‘Jane Daniels saw in my life a goldmine. And she took advantage of it.’

Romana Hamblin (The Attorney)  There was so much anger and bitterness by the time I got involved. There was not much room for negotiation.

Jane Daniels It was clear we were going to trial. It wasn’t going to settle out of court.

Middlesex Superior Court, Massachusetts, August 2001.

Jonni Soffron :The sense in the courtroom was a lot of drama. The atmosphere was pretty tense. Then, of course, the money comes up.

Romana Hamblin (The Attorney)  We found that Jane Daniels had set up a company in Turks Cacao so that contracts that came from overseas came directly into her account and she never paid royalties.

Jane Daniels, We had documents to show that she’d been paid. We had cancelled cheques to show that she’d been paid. So everything she was saying, we had documentation to refute.

Jonni Soffron but she could speak no falsehood. Where’s the money? Jury was very sympathetic.

Romana Hamblin, The jury was riveted. Here was a person in front of you that had survived the Holocaust. They were engaged and absolutely enthralled by this story.

Misha was a good witness.

‘Oh what I live is…because it’s my life.’

Jane Daniels: It just made me look like a monster. And I thought. This is not going well.

‘Jane was always fighting. She fought for what she wanted.’

There was a 10 day trial and it was gruelling.

JD: The Judge asks the jury, how do you find on count one? 

Romana Hamblin: The jury found unanimously for Misha on all counts.

JD: I mean, ultimately they came in for a massive judgement against me.

Jonni Soffron. It was kind of mind-boggling to hear the number. I was blown away. I said, ‘are you kidding me?’

Romana Hamblin, $22.5m. It was a very large verdict.

JD: I’m an optimistic person. But that hit me like a ton of bricks.

RH: The money damages against JD was largely based on JD’s testimony. This was going to be on Oprah. There was some contract with Disney. There were thing JD testified to that really elevated the level of damages. Well beyond what would seem supportable to a book like this. So everybody paid attention. People love a big verdict.

JD. Disney had fallen through. Oprah had fallen through. There was no millions of dollars. It’s an untenable position to be in. A cruel exploited of an innocent Holocaust survivor. Your world falls apart at that point.

After the trial. This was the lowest point in my life. I ended up going into therapy and being diagnosed with PTSD. I had horrible insomnia.  I was hanging on by my fingernails. My publishing company was gone. My copyright was taken away. I mean, I was destroyed at that point.

I ended up doing a post-mortem on what had happened. Looking at it piece by piece by piece. I was in my lawyer’s office going through old records and documents. I had no idea what I was going to find. I opened a bank account. And it’s in Misha’s writing. And it’s her signature card. And on there it says, date and place of birth, 5/12/37, ETERBEEK. And mother’s maiden name: DONVILLE.

All of a sudden I get a flash. She knows who she is. She knows where she was born. She knows who her mother was. This was stuff she supposedly didn’t know She lost her identity in the war. This doesn’t add up. Clearly, she know a lot more about who she was than what she had told me. What else might not be true? I had be owned by courts and lawyers. My life had been turned upside down. I wanted my life back. If I can prove she’s not who she said she is, I can overturn this judgement.

It was the dead of winter. The days were short. I was standing in my kitchen. And I thought, I have to do something.

I started recalling all the things that had happened. How I’d met her. What had happened there. What happened and how did the law suit come about? And then I thought, I’ll write a book about the case. I’ll do it as a blog. I was writing my memoir of her memoir. And maybe somebody will read it. Talk about a long shot.

The next day, I get up. I turn on my computer and there’s an email. The email says,

Sharon Sergeant. (The Genealogist)I think I may be able to help find out what’s the real story. I did a timeline of Misha from a variety of photographs. First from the book. Then from other images on the internet. So I could get a sense of her life.

JD: I wanted to know who she was. Who is this person who has just ruined my life.

Sharon Sergeant: Each photograph I tried to analyse to find out what kind of information I could squeeze out of it. The first clue was Misha claimed she was 7 years old, when she was taken in by this foster family.  In the American book there was what are called polyphonic images. And the poly photos were taken at that time. And I looked at the photos and thought, No, this doesn’t look like a 7 year old. This looks like a toddler. 3-4 years old. Big bow in her hair, chubby, chubby cheeks, frilly clothes. Something’s wrong.

ERNEST and MARTHEW.

The next picture I looked at was who Misha said was her forster grandfather and grandmother. According to the narrative, he’s a rustic, farm man. I did a close-up of the hands of grandfather, which were manicured (nails). Did not look like a farm person’s hands. And he had a ring on one of his fingers. Not the kind of thing a farmer would wear.

And the little dog on grandmother’s lap, that looks like a little house dog.  Not a farm dog. I thought, jeez, that’s strange.

And that’s when I started comparing the French and American books. I was looking at names and places and dates. [De Wael, grandmother and grandmother]. That was the big red flag.

JD. She called me and said, did you notice Misha’s name is different in the French from the one she used in the American book? 

 In the American book the name she was given by the foster parents was De Wael. The foster family gave her the name Mme Valle. Why would you have two different names?

 Sharon Sergeant. There’s too many discrepancies between the name changes and the pictures and so on. Fishy, yeh. Definitely seemed fishy.

JDaniels. If her story were true and I was doubting it there was something particularly vicious about doubting somebody that is telling the truth about something that’s happened. The callousness to say I don’t believe you. And the harm you can cause. That was in my mind. On the other hand, so many discrepancies.  Why would you be saying things that aren’t true? Maybe she’s so traumatised she’s just lost her grip on reality. How much did that explain, I didn’t know. I needed a lot of answers at that point.

We need boots on the ground. In Belguim. (Brussels).

Sharon had a connection with a Belgian genealogist, who was herself a Holocaust survivor? As it turned out, she grew up in the area Misha claimed to have lived in.

Evelyne Haendel (The Holocaust Survivor) During the war, I myself was a hidden child. I went to a Catholic school. And I became a very good little Catholic girl.  I have no recollection of anybody telling me what happened to my parents. I have no memory at all. I was about 40 and I went through a sort of terrible breakdown, which led me to find what happened to me, in fact. And what happened to my parents. And my family. And I started to make research.

I found out my father was deported to Auschwitz in September 1942. My mother was arrested in October in Brussels. And deported to Auschwitz. I was told they didn’t come back. So, I went by car to Auschwitz. I saw the camp. Where there was not a single soul. The chambers. The gas chambers were exploded. I found some candles we call ‘yeseh?’ still burning the rubble of the gas chambers. Before evening, I had a Star of David done in dried flowers. I just didn’t know where to put it. I couldn’t put it at the monument. So, finally, I choose the little pond. It floated there. And I think that was the time that I…Sorry…put my parents to rest. My parents. My grandmother, my cousin.

JR. Evelyne is a Holocaust survivor whose story is very much like Misha’s. So she was the perfect person to find out what was going on.  

Sharon Sergeant. In the French book the foster family had a surname of Valle. In the American book the surname was De Wael.

Royal Library of Belgium. To reconcile the name changes Evelyne went through the city directories for the 1930 and 1940s.

Evelyne Haendel. I came for three days, searching for the De Wael and the Valle’s. The name Valle was not in the phone books. Valle name didn’t exist. De Wael, yes. Many, many.

Jane Daniels: Now you start to think the French book was distributed in Belgium. If something about Misha’s story wasn’t true, it would be important for her not to put her real name in that book. There would be somebody over there who would say, ‘I know the De Wael family. I know whether or not she was around or disappeared during the war’.

Sharon Sergeant, The fact that she changed the name in France and Belguim from DeWael to Ville suggest to me she’s trying to hide something.

JD: Sharon and I both looked at this and said. ‘Something’s really wrong with this story’.

So at this point, the book had been taken over by a French publisher. And it was a huge hit. I was published in 20 languages. She was speaking to school children, all over the French speaking world.

Marie-Claire Mommer. (The School teacher) In 2005, I was planning on creating a professor of psychology, a project on this young child who experienced all these adventures.  The project became a huge magnificent exhibition.  Then we had the idea of to try and bring her to Belgium.

We watched her get out of the train. It was a fascinating sight. She was dressed in blue, like a shining canary, with all its colours.  With two, no three, big suitcases.

She came towards me all radiant and beaming. Right away, she exhibits a very dynamic character. Very welcoming. And very generous.

When Misha entered the exhibition she collapsed.

‘I was not warned of this. So when I visited the exhibition, I burst into tears. Because it touched me very deeply.’

She was so delighted to be there. But on the other hand, we saw the sadness come out.  And the tears, the tears, the tears. It was very emotional.

JR: in the book, Misha says her parents were arrested by the Nazis and deported. Although she didn’t know their surname. Their names were GERUSHA and REUVEN. Evelyne? Said I have access to the Nazi records of deportation. I’ll take those records and see if I can find them. If they were deported, almost simultaneously with those names.

. When we examined the deportation list, we found they were not deported as a husband and wife.

War Victims Archive, Brussels.

 Evelyne Haendel, During the war, the French/Belgian committee had made a list of hidden children. With the name of their rescuer and the name of their parents. There was a real, real, risk these archives would be taken by the Nazis. Children would be found. And killed. But it was quite clever. There were four different booklets. You needed all four to find the child. But all four of them were in different places. If any Nazi found a single booklet, they would not be able to trace the child. But, at the end of the war, with the four different booklets, there would have been a way to find whose child it was. And so I searched for Misha’s parents. No names of the parents. So, I knew there was something wrong. And in the list of hidden children, they didn’t have Misha. And they didn’t have DeWael. That is for sure. She was not mentioned.

Marie-Claire Mommer. (The School teacher) Misha’s book had a snowball effect. Already millions of books had been sold. Thereafter we had to work to prepare the conferences. And get her to them. So we were always together. At that time, she would often come back to our home. She would eat with us. She was like a member of the family. We had dozens of events. Of course, we took her to them. She was always welcomed by the organisers. And always with a lot of friendliness and kindness. Everyone left the conferences dazzled by this character.

War Victims Archive, Brussels.

 Evelyne Haendel. I was stuck, really. No findings. But no proof. So that was the point that I thought that she could have been undocumented. Some children were hidden. But not necessarily through organisations. As extraordinary as her story was, I had to keep in mind she might have been a Jewish, hidden child.

Jane Daniels. So now the stakes go up. I will feel a lot of guilt, if this story is true. I’m digging into her past. And what if it is true. How unfair to challenge her. And even if it’s mostly true, but not quite…How unfair to disrespect what she’s been through. I felt I’d been cast in a play, I didn’t audition for. I didn’t want the part. I didn’t want to be in the play. It was devouring me. This had taken over my own life. But I’ve had this judgement hanging over my head for quite a while, I’d lost the appeal. I was looking at the possibility of being completely wiped out. So it was starting to get pretty uncomfortable. But I needed to get to the truth. So when we had no Jewish records to support her story, the question is, maybe she’s not even Jewish?

Evelyne Haendel, If she’s not Jewish, then she’s most likely Catholic.

Jane Daniels. If she was Catholic, perhaps she was baptised. 

Sharon Sergeant, Misha’s bank records from the trial, said she was born in 1937, her mother’s maiden name was Donneville. And she was born in Etterb. A suburb of Brussels.

Evelyne Haendel: So in Etterb, I searched for different churches.

JD. The first, the second, the third had burned to the ground. I thought, we’re probably sunk now. Because the records were probably destroyed in the fire.

Evelyne Haendel. But the office of the Presbytery was in an adjoining street.

JD. They were preserved. So Evelyne was looking date by date by date. All the children born in that parish.

Evelyne Haendel, I knew two things, her date of birth, 12th May 1937. And the mother’s name. And in that book, I found her. Monique Emesfina Josipshiux De Wael. Daughter of Roberti Floneca Ernesti and Josiphina Germane Barbashei Donil.

JD the revelation was that Misha’s father’s name was De Wael. So her real name was Monique De Wael. It wasn’t a name given to her by foster parents to hide her from the Nazis. It seems she was born Monique De Wael. She was a Catholic. She was baptised Catholic. Her father was De Wael. However, it wasn’t proof conclusive. Because in those days they used to take names of dead children and give them to Jewish children, by way of hiding them.  

 Sharon Sergeant. It was possible that the DeWaels had taken in a Jewish child and their own child had died.

Evelyne Haendel. I needed further proof.

[what did you do next?]

Off the record, this is a good question.

JR. Evelyne figured out, where can I find this proof?

Evelyne Haendel. She would have gone to school.

Sharon Sergeant: I tried to find the school, in the tram track she mentioned in her book.

Evelyne Haendel: And as I walked by, I had the school. The door was open. I walked in and asked if they had any someone with the name of Monique De Wael.

JR. So, we’re biting our fingernails to the point where they’re actually bleeding, waiting for this information. Either we’ve got the records or we don’t.   (2/9/37). That was the final proof. Both the Baptismal certificate and her attendance in the school.

JR. I got to the phone and I picked up the phone and it was Sharon. And Sharon could hardly contain her excitement. Practically, screamed into the phone, we’ve got the records. We’ve got the records. That was the smoking gun. Now I’ve caught her in a lie. My life had been contaminated by a whole spiderweb of lies. And here it is. Exposed as a hoax. Now, I thought, the whole story she tells in the book, falls apart. At that point I knew she was not who she said she was. Not only was she not a Jewish child hiding in the forest from the Nazis. She was a Catholic child, safely enrolled in school. She wasn’t anywhere near wolves. She was playing to an audience. She knew exactly what she was doing. Now we can see this not just a little white fib. This is a massive conspiracy over 20 years to propagate what was a complete falsehood. This was not the real Misha.

Evelyne Haendel: I had many feelings. I felt angry. I felt disgusted. I just saw the fake history. The fake identity. A way to get money out of the Holocaust.  Somebody stole a very painful part of my life. I felt it for myself. And for all the hidden children. The dead children. Through the Holocaust. For all the parents. For my parents. But, in fact, for all the Jewish community.

JR. At the point we got the records, the book was a huge bestseller, all over Europe. And the book had just came out. And the movie was called. ‘Surviving with Wolves’.

It had Premiered in Paris, ‘Based on a true story’. And here we’re holding these documents. So we said, let’s go with this. Let’s put it on my blog. And email somebody over in Belgium.

The next morning it had broken, front page of all the newspapers. We had fired a truth bomb. It had landed. The whole fake thing blew up.

Jonni Soffron, I went home. Put her name on my computer. And there it was. And it felt like my blood just drained from my body. You know, how can this possibly be? I was angry. I was sad. I was hurt. I felt betrayed. I felt used. She became that close to me that when we had a litter of pubs born, we named one, Misha. It was just heart-breaking. Absolutely heart-breaking. We were duped. Just like the rest of you.

Karen Schulman. That fact that she lied, made me cry. Misha played on sympathy. That’s how she became a wonderful storyteller. Sympathy. That’s how Misha was able to fool people. Sympathy.

Pat Cunnigham: I burst into tears. I felt so taken advantage of and lied to. The lies and bitterness came out. Some of my neighbours did give her quite large sums of money. We’re talking $25000, $30 000. To help her save the house. She’d go to the Rabbis and ask for donations from the temple. The entire community. The neighbours than knew her. Nobody talked to, that I know of. Everybody felt betrayed. Yeh…

Marie-Claire Mommer. There was a kind of anger that rose up in me, which never left me. The students that took part in the project. The day I entered the class there was a state of revolt. You have to imagine a pack in revolt. Rants. Tears. Cries. They were standing up on the benches. I was no longer in control. And I usually contained my students very well. I contacted Misha straight away. I wanted to be honest and authentic with her. But she said, ‘Don’t worry, it must be the doing of the publisher in America.’

Jane Daniels. And then came the next twist in the story. It couldn’t have got more bizarre. I said to myself I could never make up this plot, if I did, they would say, this is preposterous. This would not happen.

Marc Metdepinnigen (The Journalist) Every journalist dreams of a scoop.  The question for me was if the story was false, what is the real story? What I did was simply go through the Brussel’s phone book, where there are approximately 400 De Waels. So I started going through them. One after the other. And at the forty-third or forty-forth, I stumbled across a woman Emma De Wael. My meeting with Emma, Misha’s aunt was extraordinary.

Marc Metdepinnigen :She didn’t go in search of her parents?   

Emma De Wael: Good god, no. Her grandfather and grandmother

Marc Metdepinnigen. She told me her niece had always been delusional. That she would create imaginary worlds for herself.

Emma De Wael: I went and fetched her regularly with the number 56 tram to Anderlecht and brought her to Schaerbeek. In the evenings I took her back to Uncle Ernest.

Marc Metdepinnigen,  Emma De Wael told the truth about what happens during war. What happened to Robert, Misha Defonseca’s father.

Jean-Philippe Tondeur (Military Historian) Robert De Wael worked at Schaerbeek Town Hall. He was really very patriotic. And very engaged with his role as a reserve officer.  

Marc Metdepinnigen, I met Jean-Philippe Tondeur by chance. But he had a lot of documentation on Misha Defonseca’s father. So I went to consult Robert De Wael’s file.

On 10th May, 1940. Germans invade Belgium. They crush the Belgian army during an 18 day campaign. The king surrenders. And Belgium is occupied. Robert De Wael joins the Resistance. And begins to recruit resistance fighters. As a resistance fighter, Robert DeWael was involved in gathering weapons. Activating intelligence networks. And transmitting intelligence to the Belgian government which had gone to London.

Jean-Philippe Tondeur (Military Historian) Robert De Wael wasn’t very discrete about his activities for the resistance.

Emma De Wael, he had a loose tongue, because he was proud of what he was doing. Because I knew he had secret documents. He even showed them to us at home. My father told him to be careful. That he was becoming careless. He risked address.

Marc Metdepinnigen. He was denounced by a Nazi collaborator. And was quickly arrested. Robert DeWael, his wife and 41 resistance fighters were arrested. And are deported to Germany. And sent to Bruweiler prison in Cologne. The Cologne prison had a very harsh regime. He’s interrogated by the Gestapo.

Jean-Philippe Tondeur (Military Historian) Robert De Wael starts to scream. He cracks. He made a deal in the Cologne prison. This deal involved him handing over the names of his fellow resistance fighters in exchange for his wife being protected. And to once again see his daughter, Misha.

In 1942, after betraying his fellow officers, as the Germans demanded of him. Robert De Wael got one last opportunity to see his daughter. And that would be the end for Robert De Wael. He would later be deported. Robert and his wife Germaine would die in the camps.

Emma De Wael. We called her the traitor’s daughter. Because it was said that her father sided with the Germans.  

Jean-Philippe Tondeur (Military Historian) The Municipal would prescribe a plaque with the resistance fighters who died during the war. Robert De Wael, whose name was listed last, was later erased.

Marc Metdepinnigen, on 28th February 2008, when things became very clear, we published Robert De Wael’s whole story. The betrayal. The falseness of the story. Misha Defonseca’s account. And in the hours that followed a statement was issued. This was Misha Defonseca’s statement:

‘They called me the “Traitor’s daughter” because my father was suspected of having spoken under torture. This book, this story, is mine. It is not the actual reality, but it was my reality. My way of surviving. I ask forgiveness.  All I ever wanted was to exorcise my suffering.’

‘I felt so rejected. But I could not explain it to myself. Neither to my grandmother of my grandfather. I am not the girl I thought, but there are times I hesitate. I say to myself, “Did I or did I not, experience it?” I have to think.’

‘Particularly, with animals, I can still see myself, rolling on the ground with wolves.’

‘Have you seen my lovely picture with wolves? They will always be my wolves. I will be at their side. Even if I know the truth now. I am at their side. I got into a bubble. A world of my own. And this world of mine was filled with animals. Animals that defended me against humans.

Candy O’Terre. The Radio Host. Listening back to this intro the first words in this were ‘sometimes a story is so astonishing, it’s unbelievable. That’s very astonishing. Those were the first words. Then it turns out, it’s not true.’

I believed her. I didn’t see anything in those eyes that made me think she wasn’t telling me the truth. All I was doing was looking for more truth to confirm what I already believed. In hindsight, it’s chilling. But for me, at that moment, I was so respectful of someone’s experience of what we think of as citizens of the world will recognise was the darkest time of the history of the world. Far be it from me to question her.

Deborah Dwork (The Holocaust Historian) When it comes to questioning Holocaust survivors, one brings a great deal of diffidence to those claims. But the danger of believing everything puts history and the historical reality of genuine survivors at risk.

In December 1996, I got a letter and a manuscript from Jane Daniel. That manuscript was Misha (a memoir) during the Holocaust. I called Jane Daniel to explain why this narrative just didn’t work. I said to her, I would not publish this book. I have thought over the years why Jane Daniels decided to go forward with publication. She clearly hoped that the manuscript was true. But she clearly worried, it was not. I think it was greed that powered her, this narrative. For Misha and Jane Daniels. And then, as those sales’ figures rose, more and more people accepted the memoir as real. As true.

JD: I admit it. I created this monster. I created this monster with enormous sympathy as a character. Somebody that had suffered terribly. Somebody that deserved respect. In fact. Awe. And nobody wants to admit they were tricked. And I admit it, I was tricked by her. I believed her. Everybody was seduced. The American jurisprudence system. The judges. The juries. We were all seduced by this story.

Evelyne Haendel: It’s human to believe. Creditability is something else. It’s your need to question things or not that will help you discern what’s true and what’s not.  

Marie-Claire Mommer: I have enough distance to take a more analytical look at Misha’s character. Misha created a world for herself. A world of her own belief. Misha sought refuge in fantasy and with time she slowly becomes a character in her own story.

Deborah Dwork (The Holocaust Historian) I think we would like to believe that Misha Defonseca believed. That she was a survivor of the Holocaust. I think we would like to believe that we were not so naïve. That we believed it, because she believed it. And we would even like to believe that this narrative has a redemptive purpose. Because it made right the wrong of her childhood. I think it’s nonsense. There is no redemptive purpose. We were so naïve. It was all a fabrication.  

Evelyne Haendel: I feel about her today, (shrug) mixed emotions. I think she was a protagonist in the story but she was not alone. There were other people that helped to make this biography be a bestseller. Just talking about her right now, the search and the years that went by- some pity, ah, some repulsion, maybe it’s too hard a word, but I’m feeling some understanding. As a child it must have been very difficult for her after the war. The fact her father was called a traitor. A collaborator. She is both the victim and the villain. She’s both. She is both in the story.

The real Misha Defonseca still lives in Massachusetts with her husband and animals.

She chose not to be interviewed for this film.

The financial penalty against Jane Daniels was partially overturned.