PREEMPTING THE HOLOCAUST by Lawrence L. Langer

PREEMPTING THE HOLOCAUST

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Langer, one of our most eloquent Holocaust scholars (Admitting the Holocaust, 1994, etc.), offers 11 essays that look mainly at the inadequacies of art in addressing this cataclysm. The lectures and occasional pieces collected in this new volume, written in the last three years, deal predominantly with cultural issues, ranging from the paintings of Samuel Bak (a survivor of the Vilna ghetto) to the Yiddish-Polish film Undzere Kinder (Our Children), from the moral question posed by Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower to the problem of teaching the Holocaust. Langer, like Bak, “insists on a tension between . . . two narratives [of Jewish history]: a positive chronicle moving from Creation to Exodus . . . and a negative one, beginning with round-ups and finishing with train voyages to a perplexing abandonment and final doom.” In his previous work, Langer has offered a convincing analysis of the events of the Holocaust as being beyond our previous categories of moral behavior and of the recollections of the survivors as existing in their own doubled narrative, “chronological” and “durational” time, as he puts it. The new book restates and refines the ideas of its predecessors, most notably Holocaust Testimonies (which won a National Book Critics Circle award), applying that work’s insights to specific texts with incisiveness and intelligence. At a time when the daily newspapers are filled with renewed versions of genocide and atrocity, but also a time in which the last of the perpetrators of the Holocaust and their victims are dying of old age, this volume is a useful corrective to the foolish sentimentalizing of these events or their application as a hideously inappropriate lesson on the “triumph of the human spirit.” As Langer himself points out dryly, “the Holocaust is a narrative without closure and with few cheerful endings.” An essential work on one of the central historical moments of this century. (First serial to Atlantic Monthly)

Pub Date: Nov. 23rd, 1998
ISBN: 0-300-07357-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1998