Behind Rachel Dolezal’s Invented Persecution


Patrick Blanchfield in Daily Beast:

Her case suggests more than just a deep-seated problem, something more than just a highly narcissistic form of histrionic personal disorder, or an unhealthy need for obsession and approval.

Dolezal gives us stories replete with images of grotesque violence: beatings and whippings. Like slavery. Like torture. These are highly choreographed, ritualized sadomasochistic scenes, and to psychotherapists, they’re nothing new.

Therapists since Freud have listened to troubled patients tell stories, both plausible and more dubious, of such violence, and have regularly noticed that they are presented as stories of others being victimized when in fact it is the teller himself who is suffering from persecution that may be real or imagined or both.

And most people, rightly and compassionately, believe these stories. Until, it turns out, these stories are an emotional cover for something that could never be true.

This isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened—even at this scale, and even with the same profoundly unsettling accusations.

Exactly twenty years ago, readers across Europe were absorbed by a remarkable, increasingly rare literary event: the revelation of a previously unknown Holocaust memoir. Published in German in 1995 as Bruchstücke: Aus einer Kindheit 1939—1948, a slim, hard-hitting first-person account offered a new, horrifying perspective on the Holocaust—that of an extremely young child, a Latvian named Binjamin Wilkomirski. Wilkomirski’s story, told in surreal, dreamlike patches punctuated by moments of stupefying violence, was riveting. Wilkomirski’s first memory, he claimed, was of witnessing his father being beaten to death.

Traveling between the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Majdanek, he claimed to have seen babies gnawing off their own frozen fingers, SS guards mutilating the penises of young boys, and more.

The account was met with considerable acclaim. For The New York Times, Wilkomirski’s prose, even in translation, conveyed “a poet’s vision; a child’s state of grace.” Fragments won the U.S. National Jewish Book Award, while Wilkomirski received numerous personal honors.

The only problem with Wilkomirski’s testimony is that it was full of lies.

More here.