Versions of Survival
The Holocaust and the Human Spirit
Versions of Survival focuses on the efforts to rehabilitate the human image after it has been tempered in the crucible of the Holocaust. It examines the ways in which psychology, language, and literary art distort or illuminate that effort. It insists on the importance of confronting the inhuman, to say nothing of the unthinkable, when probing survival during the Holocaust and the sources of man's moral being.
The book assesses and challenges some of the more comfortable and comforting conclusions about the survival experience as set forth by Bruno Bettelheim, Viktor Frankl, and Terrence Des Pres. It analyses material that contradicts or modifies their survival theories such as Hermann Langbein's Menschen in Auschwitz, Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, and Tadeusz Borowski's stories This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. Langer then evaluates the career and work of Elie Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor who has devoted his life to forging an image of the human compatible with the anguish that the survivor-victim of the Holocaust endured. Finally, the author examines the fate of language, of the work itself, as it succumbs to atrocity and then is reshaped into a new and vigorous if enigmatic force by the hand and imagination of two survivor poets, Gertrud Kolmar and Nelly Sachs.