Holocaust Testimonies, by Lawrence L. Langer
Someone comes with a story to tell—how, alone of all his family, friends, and townspeople, he survived the Nazi Holocaust. So you put him in a bare room, and sit him down in front of a video camera, and a stranger asks him questions in English to which he replies with a heavy accent. Lawrence L. Langer, in his recent study of Holocaust Testimonies, argues that such interviews are the ultimate source of truth. They are truer than the written word, even by the same person, because they lay bare the self-censoring tricks that memory plays.
After viewing hundreds of videotapes housed at the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University, Langer has drawn a map to describe the intricate byways of Holocaust memory. He provides the following five headings: Deep Memory reveals the “buried self” as it was then, without the support of memories from before or after Auschwitz; Anguished Memory recalls the futile dialogue within the self of the insider vs. the outsider; Humiliated Memory leaves the self “besieged” by the “governing impotence of the worst moments”; Tainted Memory reenacts the moral compromise, the unpredictability, and total self-reliance involved in just staying alive; and Unheroic Memory finally unmasks the “diminished self left with the heritage of past discords that cannot be orchestrated into present and prospective harmonies.”
About the Author
David G. Roskies teaches literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary. This is adapted from a work in progress, The Last Yiddish Novel: A Memoir. Copyright © 2005 by David G. Roskies.