cover image Preempting the Holocaust

Preempting the Holocaust

Lawrence L. Langer. Yale University Press, $47 (228pp) ISBN 978-0-300-07357-7

""Anyone teaching [the Holocaust] must be willing to confront behavior that cannot be explained by prior notions of why we do what we do."" In this collection of essays, most of which were delivered at Holocaust conferences, Langer, author of the NBCC prize-winning Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory, challenges our tendency to push aside the uniquely horrible reality of this event to make room for the uplifting, the rationalizing, the triumphal versions, whether or not they convey the truth. Describing the Nazis as mindless bureaucratic killing machines rather than sadistic murderers or insisting that the establishment of Israel in 1948 somehow makes up for the death of two-thirds of Europe's Jews are examples of our inability to deal honestly with a historical event that undermines all religious and humane assumptions about people's relations to one another and to God. Langer finds a disquieting truth in the work of Primo Levi, Samuel Bak, Cynthia Ozick and Art Spiegelman, but criticizes artist Judy Chicago's Holocaust Project and theologian Tzvetan Todorov's writing for seeking falsely to universalize the experience of the Holocaust, thereby distorting and reducing it. ""There is simply no connection between our ordinary suffering and their unprecedented agony, nor do our trivial inclinations toward sin resemble in any way the minds that devised such terminal torture."" Langer's own experience interviewing Holocaust survivors has profoundly branded him, and his deep sympathy and outrage on behalf of the innocent victims of humanity's most horrendous crime permeates these somber and alarming essays. (Oct.)