Holocaust Testimonies

The Ruins of Memory

Lawrence L. Langer

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January 27, 1993
235 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
ISBN: 9780300052473
Paper

Also Available in:
e-book

This important an original book is the first sustained analysis of the unique ways in which oral testimony of survivors contributes to our understanding of the Holocaust. It also sheds light on the forms and functions of memory as victims relive devastating experiences of pain, humiliation, and loss.

 

Drawing on the Fortunoff Video Archives for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University, Lawrence L. Langer shows how oral Holocaust testimonies complement historical studies by enabling us to confront the human dimensions of the catastrophe. Quoting extensively from these interviews, Langer develops a technique for interpreting them as we might a written text. He contrasts written and oral narratives, noting that while survivor memoirs by authors such as Primo Levi and Charlotte Delbo transform reality through style, imagery, chronology, or a coherent moral vision, oral testimonies resist these organizing impulses and allow instead a kind of unshielded truth to emerge, just as powerful in its impact as the visions taking shape in written memoirs. He argues that it is necessary to deromanticize the survival experience and that to burden it with accolades about the “indomitable human spirit” is to slight its painful complexity and ambivalence. Finally he explores the perplexing task of establishing a meaningful connection between consequential living and inconsequential dying, between moral striving and the sprit of anguish and sense of a diminished self that pervades these haunting Holocaust testimonies.

"Holocaust Testimonies by Lawrence L. Langer is an altogether brilliant mapping of the tortuous terrain of memory presented by the accumulation of oral testimonies on the Holocaust . . . an extraordinary adventure in scholarship at its most honest, most compassionate, most compelling."—Chaim Potok


"This engrossing new book is a thorough study of Yale's collection of Holocaust testimonies. . . . Langer makes convincing distinctions between oral and written accounts of the Holocaust. One of the best books ever written on this harrowing subject."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"This is an incomparable record of the memories of survivors and their psychic pain and confusion."—Lucy Edwards Despard, Foreign Affairs

"A psychological meditation on the mutilation of memory by unspeakable experience. . . . This book has great power, never more so than in the extensively quoted recollections of these fugitives from the worst of hells."—New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice for one of the ten best books of 1991

"A valuable work . . . a pioneering work. Perhaps its most valuable conclusion is that post-Holocaust society should abandon its attempt to impose a pattern or derive a collective moral from the fractured recollections of survivors."—Zev Ben-Shlomo, Jewish Chronicle

"Perhaps one of the best books in the recent flood of works on the subject, certainly one of the most thoughtful. Its conclusions are deeply unsettling."—New York Times Book Review

"A work of maturity and discernment. . . . What emerges is a refined understanding of the Holocaust as experienced by those who lived it. . . . Those of us privileged to read this work will come close to understanding what it was like to be there. I can think of no work that brings us closer."—Michael Berenbaum, Moment

"Langer's book is a serious, honest, and often moving meditation on questions that still hang over our culture."—David Herman, The Times Higher Education Supplement

Named one of the ten best books of 1991 by The New York Times Book Review

Winner of the 1991 National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism

Winner of the Eugene M. Kayden Press Book Award for 1991-92
 
Auschwitz and After
Second Edition

Charlotte Delbo; Translated by Rosette C.

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