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Lawrence L. Holocaust testimony (HVT-4489) interviewed by Joanne Weiner Rudof,

Oral History | Fortunoff Collection ID: HVT-4489

Videotape testimony of Lawrence L., a professor and prominent scholar of Holocaust literature and testimony, who was born in Bronx, New York in 1929. He recalls no knowledge of the Holocaust or the Nuremberg trials when they occurred; traveling to Europe in 1955 after completing his oral examinations at Harvard, focusing on American literature; visiting Dachau, including a gas chamber; having no context with which to understand the site, outside of minimal signage; reading Night and The Last of the Just to prepare a lecture for Yom Hashoah in the early 1960s, his first encounters with Holocaust literature; spending 1963-1964 teaching American literature in Austria; an unplanned visit to Mauthausen when passing it en route elsewhere; the impact of entering the gas chamber (his wife and children were on the level above) and an execution site (he learned its purpose later); a planned visit to Auschwitz with an American history professor; the exhibits of huge amounts of human hair, prosthetic limbs, children's clothing, and other objects; his initial overwhelming contact with the Holocaust through these images; attending the war crime trial of Karl Wolff in Munich and the Auschwitz trials in Frankfurt; shock at the defendants' lack of remorse; and realizing a complete disconnect between events of the Holocaust and normal reality.

Mr. L. recounts returning home and developing a course on Holocaust literature, which he taught from 1965 to 1968; a sabbatical in Munich from 1968-1969; writing The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination; rejection by more than twenty publishers; its publication in 1975 (it was one of three finalists for the National Book Award); co-teaching a course on death in literature leading to his next book, The Age of Atrocity : Death in Modern Literature; his resulting friendship with Charlotte Delbo (he later wrote the introduction to the English translation of her memoir); discomfort with the psychological and psychiatric literature of the Holocaust; agreeing to watch Yale survivor video testimonies in the early 1980s for Facing History and Ourselves to advise in their integration into curricular materials; being stunned by the testimonies; learning there was no limit to the Nazi cruelty, ruthlessness, and brutality; immersing himself in Holocaust history, realizing he could not understand the testimonies without the historical knowledge; watching testimonies five days a week; participating in testimony recordings beginning in 1986; deciding in 1988 to write about them; obtaining a fellowship in 1988-1990; completing Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory in five months (multiple awards); compiling Art from the Ashes: A Holocaust Anthology; and publication of collections of essays and commentary in eight collections on the art of Samuel Bak. Professor L. discusses coining the phrase “choiceless choice” in an early essay; the development and multi-disciplinary aspects of Holocaust studies; the ability of survivors to go on with their lives despite living with extraordinary pain; the importance of survivor testimony to Holocaust history and to understanding the human dimension of the atrocities; and the influence of the testimonies on his life.

L., Lawrence L., 1929-
New Haven, Conn. : Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, 2016
Interview Date
June 22, 2016.
2 copies: DVCam master; and Betacam SP submaster.
Cite As
Lawrence L. Holocaust Testimony (HVT-4489). Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, Yale University Library.
View in Yale University Library Catalog:
Record last modified: 2018-05-30 11:40:00
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