Admitting the Holocaust by Lawrence L. Langer is a collection of essays about the Holocaust and how it is perceived in literature by our culture. Langer explores oral testimonies, diaries and fiction that consider the devastation of the Holocaust a central theme. He takes a look at human values in the light of that devastation. He exhibits the concern between literature and testimony.
His hope is that the Holocaust experience will not be sentimentalized in the various forms of literature and media. Langer wants the Holocaust to be presented as it really was - evil. Throughout his book Langer makes reference to various other writers novels and articles about the death camps. He criticizes such authors as William Styron and Bernard Malamud. According to Langer (Beyond Theodicy: Jewish Victims and the Holocaust and Malamud's Jews and the Holocaust Experience, ), too many historical and cultural representations of the Nazis murderers try, by portraying the Jewish victims as dignified martyrs, to introduce the notion of spiritual redemption into the accounts of atrocities that need to be confronted without moral oversimplification. He rejects the works of Malamud who found in suffering a source or spiritual strength, a moral advantage.
In the essays A Tainted Legacy: Remembering the Warsaw Ghetto and Ghetto Chronicles: Life at the Brink Langer criticizes accounts that present heroism, suffering and religious experience as a central theme. He writes: Jews were destroyed by humans, not God... in a historical, not religious, moment of suffering... whether they chose or not, men died for nothing. He finds it unimaginable that any sane person could write, It is a great privilege to have been chosen to bear this. (E tty Hilum) He also criticizes th usual portrayal of the Holocaust on television and stage (The Americanization of the Holocaust on Stage and Screen). To Langer, the language used in the portrayals is designed to console, not to confront. In describing his review of historical studies of the Holocaust, Langer strongly objects to the use of abstract terms like the murder of 6 million and says that the accounts of the total destruction of the European Jewry should be told in graphic detail.
In Cultural Resistance to Genocide, Langer points out that by the use of the expression cultural resistance to genocide we are given some type of consolation to the events before we even begin to grasp any type of understanding. He suggests that we are more accurate if we use the expression cultural witness to genocide. He is offended by memorials such as Yad Vashem in Jerusalem because it was created by the Heroes and Martyrs Remembrance Authority. Langer says: Jews were nullified, not sacrificed, murdered, not martyred. Lawrence Langer refers to the movie Schindler's List which gave a depiction of Holocaust victims, resisters or survivors.
Although a candid portrayal of the Jewish ordeal in World War II, leaves the viewer with memories of a healing wound rather than a throbbing scar. He writes: the Holocaust story cannot be told in terms of heroic dignity, moral courage and the triumph of the human spirit. He strives to point out that the media has its limitations in what they put out to the public. In this aspect, there must be a more conscience effort made to effectively communicate the absolute horror of the Holocaust to the public. In Fictional Facts and Factual Fictions: History in Holocaust literature, he criticizes Leslie Epstein's account of Chaim Rumkowski's leadership in King of the Jews. The actual details were not full of comedy and farce as Epstein related.
He finds the same sort of artistic exploitation in other author's works which he suggests that maybe the fact of time has diminished the absolute horror, however, objects strongly to these renditions. He also criticizes Polish author, Tadeusz Borowski, (The Americanization of the Holocaust on Stage and Screen) and points out that the true accounts are those that tell of the graphic details of the destruction of European Jews. In Myth and Truth in Cynthia O sick's The Shawl and Rosa, he praises the writings of author Cynthia Oz ick who points out that like Rosa's underpants the truth is what has been lost can never be found. He praises the accounts of Charlotte De lbo in None of Us Will Return. Several times Langer refers to Jean Amery's (Beyond Guilt and Atonement; translated into English-At the Mind's Limit) observation that no bridge led from death in Auschwitz to Death in Venice. Langer suggests that Auschwitz introduced the realm of the unthinkable into the human drama (The Literature of Auschwitz).
Langer gives much of his focus to the issue of authors, movie producers and others using the events of the Holocaust for the purpose of promoting some type of private agenda such as: women's plight in the concentration camps; the conflicting claims of individual and community survival in the Kovno ghetto; the current tendency to compare the Holocaust with other modern atrocities so that the distinctive feature of each is blurred; and the impulse to put the place less emphasis on the crime, criminals and victims and more emphasis on the question of forgiveness and the need for healing. It is more important to Langer that true, graphic, and devastating accounts reach the present and future generations who will undoubtedly try to understand how and why the atrocities of Holocaust could happen. Through these essays, Langer tries to show some way to save us from fatal results of building a society on a fragile foundation of naive idealism that is only a virtuous name for self delusion... colored with a rosy tinge to help them manage the unimaginable without having to look at it naked and ugly face. In Admitting the Holocaust, Langer argues that new moral and linguistic categories are necessary in order to respond properly and honestly to the reality of the Holocaust. Lawrence L. Langer defines the Holocaust as a rupture in the images and values of modern western culture.
In the essay Understanding the Atrocity: Killers and Victims in the Holocaust, he says that we will never understand the crimes of the Holocaust, or the roots of the Holocaust unless we can fathom the kind of thinking that allows a human being to consider the destruction of lives as inconsequential. In Admitting the Holocaust, I perceive Langer as having an on-going struggle with the facts versus fiction; the myths versus reality. The book is a very compelling series of essays which stress his overwhelming concern with the exploitation of the Holocaust in literature and art. In Admitting the Holocaust, Langer becomes a conscience, demanding that we grapple with the real implications of the Holocaust-its evil. (Michael Ber ebaum, Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation) He insists that the events of the Holocaust offer neither a lesson nor a moral but instead those horrible events defy all reasoning, civilization, society and culture. The Holocaust leaves an irreparable legacy for present and future generations.
The collection of essays in Admitting the Holocaust are clear, persuasive and gripping. They offer thoughtful and provocative questions to complex issues. Can simple words transport the true sense of what the Holocaust was What is the particular value and limitations of the various media when trying to convey the utter devastation of the Holocaust Just how can the enormity of the Holocaust be communicated Perhaps it cannot. Perhaps we will never find the answer.
Perhaps there is no answer. Lawrence L. Langer has demonstrated to me that no matter what we read, see, hear or feel, we, the members of this generation and future generations will never be able to understand the why and how of such a tragic and devastating event. We can only hope to continue the study so that the Holocaust will be seen as it truly was - evil. 336.