Book: Holocaust Testimonies

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Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory

Author: Lawrence L. Langer
Publisher: Yale University Press

This important and original book is the first sustained analysis of the unique ways in which oral testimony of survivors contributes to our understanding of the Holocaust. Langer 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.


Disturbing and controversial, this work is based on 300 of the more than 1,400 taped interviews with Holocaust survivors preserved at Yale University’s Fortunoff Video Archives. It’s disturbing because of the survivors’ graphic retelling of the starvation, torture, brutalization and cannibalism that occurred in the Nazi death camps. It’s controversial because, instead of focusing on the bravery necessary to endure such horrors, Langer’s book delves into the psychic wounds that 50 years after their infliction remain unhealed. “We have these double lives,” said one survivor. “We can’t cancel out. It just won’t go away.” Holocaust Memories won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism for 1991.

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