Professor Lawrence L. Langer (born 1926) focused his research on the literature of the Holocaust. A turning point in his studies came in 1984 when Margot Stern Strom, head of the educational organization Facing History and Ourselves Inc., offered him the opportunity to cooperate on a project whose purpose was the recording, archiving and sharing of video interviews with Holocaust survivors. The result of the analysis of the gathered materials (over 1400 hours of recording ranging from 30 minutes to over 4 hours long) is the book Holocaust Testimonies…
The basis of his analysis is the premise that the intimate nature of the interviews with the survivors brings us, the listeners, closer to perceiving the “dreadful familiarity” of the Holocaust. In a conversation the issues of style and form are irrelevant- they create no field for interpretation. “Struggling to identify with the voices of the witnesses, who themselves are struggling to discover voices trustworthy enough to tell their whole stories […], I often found myself naked before their nakedness, defenseless in the presence of their vulnerability” – Langer writes- because “when former victims […] insist that the situations in which they found themselves in ghettos and camps were "different" they are making a specific appeal to us to abandon traditional assumptions about moral conduct and the "privileged" distinctions between right and wrong […]. The events they endured rudely dispel as misconception the idea that choice is purely an internal matter, immune to circumstance and chance.”
The book, first published in 1991, was named one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review. It sheds light on the forms and functioning of the victims’ memories, helps us understand literary memoirs and what we call oral history as well as making us realize how daunting (or maybe insurmountable) a task overcoming the legacy of the Holocaust is.