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By Lawrence L. Langer

Within the face of the Holocaust, writes Lawrence L. Langer, our age clings to the reliable relics of light eras, as though principles like traditional innocence, innate dignity, the inviolable spirit, and the triumph of paintings over fact have been immured in a few type of immortal shrine, resistant to the ravages of heritage and time. yet those principles were ravaged, and in Admitting the Holocaust. Langer provides a chain of essays that signify his attempt, over approximately a decade, to combat with this rupture in human values--and to determine the Holocaust because it fairly was once. His imaginative and prescient is unavoidably darkish, yet he doesn't see the Holocaust as a warrant for futility, or as a witness to the dying of wish. it's a summons to think again our values and reconsider what it skill to be a human being.
those penetrating and infrequently gripping essays conceal a variety of matters, from the Holocaust's relation to time and reminiscence, to its portrayal in literature, to its use and abuse by means of tradition, to its position in reshaping our experience of history's legacy. in lots of, Langer examines the ways that money owed of the Holocaust--in background, literature, movie, and theology--have prolonged, and infrequently constrained, our perception into an occasion that's frequently acknowledged to defy knowing itself. He singles out Cynthia Ozick as one of many few American writers who can meet the problem of imagining mass homicide with out flinching and who can distinguish among delusion and fact. however, he unearths Bernard Malamud's literary remedy of the Holocaust by no means solely profitable (it turns out to were a risk to Malamud's imaginative and prescient of man's simple dignity) and he argues that William Styron's portrayal of the commandant of Auschwitz in Sophie's Choice driven Nazi violence to the outer edge of the radical, the place it disturbed neither the writer nor his readers. he's particularly acute in his dialogue of the language used to explain the Holocaust, arguing that a lot of it's used to console instead of to confront. He notes that once we converse of the survivor rather than the sufferer, of martyrdom rather than homicide, regard being gassed as demise with dignity, or evoke the redemptive instead of grevious strength of reminiscence, we draw on an arsenal of phrases that has a tendency to construct verbal fences among what we're mentally willing--or able--to face and the harrowing fact of the camps and ghettos.
A revered Holocaust pupil and writer of Holocaust stories: The Ruins of Memory, winner of the 1991 nationwide e-book Critics Circle Award for feedback, Langer bargains a view of this disaster that's candid and annoying, and but hopeful in its trust that the testimony of witnesses--in diaries, journals, memoirs, and on videotape--and the unflinching mind's eye of literary artists can nonetheless supply us entry to at least one of the darkest episodes within the 20th century.

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If she had died a natural death, I would not have been so stricken, so broken. " Lewin speaks of the tragic end of their life of twenty-one years together. But in tragedy, the victim is an agent, or at least a partial agent, in his or her own fate. We know, and as we slowly perceive, Lewin does too, that a main source of his anguish is his failure to find a role for his wife or himself in what happened to her. "8 The heroic imagination conjures up all kinds of knightly exploits that Lewin might have attempted, but these are the stuff of Romantic literature or folk- 35 Admitting the Holocaust lore, not life, and though some of us persist in imposing such exploits on the grim reality of the Holocaust, Lewin's humble words remind us how humanly unexceptional most of us are, even in moments of extreme disaster I think if pressed, Ringelblum might have admitted this too "Today is the seventh day since the great calamity that befell me," Lewin writes after a week has passed "If only I could die and be free of the whole nightmare But I am still tied to life and it is still difficult for me to take my own life "9 Whatever we may call his clinging to life, celebrating it as an affirmation of the human spirit, considering the immediate context of his loss, would be to misconstrue his situation and his attitude Since virtually all surviving victims share a similar kind of loss, it is little wonder that they demur when we ply them with the rhetoric of heroic behavior They know we do this to shield ourselves, not to praise them Lewin's own vista of what lay ahead paid homage to the limitations, not the infinite vitality, of the human spirit "The burden on our souls and on our thoughts has become so heavy, oppressive," he wrote, "that it is almost unbearable I am keenly aware that if our nightmare does not end soon, then many of us, the more sensitive and empathetic natures, will break down I feel that we are standing on the threshold of the intolerable, between existence and annihilation" 1 0 One can imagine Adam Czerniakow thinking those very words before he swallowed his poison These are not options that endear themselves to the contemporary imagination But if we are to teach this history faithfully, we must heed without flinching the implications of testimony such as Lewin's, written from within the cauldron Students of the Holocaust need to know what life from the threshold of the intolerable looks like Lewin did, and he leaves us the legacy of his vision If we ever live to see the end of this cruel war and are able as free people and citizens to look back on the war years that we have lived through, then we will surely conclude that the most terrible and un holy the most destructive aspect for our nervous system and our health was to live day and night in an atmosphere of unending fear and terror for our physical survival in a continual wavering between life and death—a state where every passing minute brought with it the danger that our hearts would literally burst with fear and dread 11 36 If we ask today, sometimes with a faint if self-righteous air of disapproval, why Jews m the camps or ghettos behaved the way they did, the answer, more often than not, lies locked m a heart bursting with Remembering the Warsaw Ghetto fear or dread.

It was very difficult. . you asked for my impression. "20 If normal memory is an internal ordering of images from the past, then tainted memory is an internal disordering of those images, and Zuckerman's uncommon response to his Warsaw ghetto experience reveals the origins of that taint. It is an austere and vexing legacy, but the Holocaust, when truly faced, offers us little else. 1993 40 4 Ghetto Chronicles: Life at the Brink A lthough diaries of the deathcamp experience were still being dug up in the ruins of the gas chambers at Auschwitz as late as 1962, they were few in number, often fragmentary, and usually in poor condition.

It sheds light on one of the issues we in our innocence continue to explore: Why didn't the victims do more to keep themselves alive? One answer we screen ourselves from hearing is that occasionally, because of the unbearable persecutions they were subject to, they preferred not to. But this is not the usual case. Although the threat and then the prospect of death began to infiltrate their consciousness like a rabid virus, most victims clung to life with desperate tenacity. Another young diarist, who perished of tuberculosis in the ghetto at age nineteen, wrote: "Yesterday a student in our class died from hunger exhaustion.

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