Campus & Community

Remembering Professor Emeritus Lawrence “Larry” Langer

Lawrence L. Langer

The recent passing of beloved Professor Emeritus of English Lawrence “Larry” Langer has deeply saddened everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him as a colleague, teacher, and mentor during a distinguished Simmons career that spanned over three decades. Those of us who did not have the privilege of knowing Professor Langer join them in recognizing his many contributions and honoring his legacy as a renowned Holocaust literature scholar who loved teaching. He had a tremendous impact on Simmons and the wider world.

Professor Langer joined Simmons in 1958 and began teaching American Literature; he remained on the faculty until 1992. His career took a significant turn in 1964 when, as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Graz in Austria, he visited Mauthausen concentration camp and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. Those experiences had a profound impact.

When he returned to Simmons in 1964, Professor Langer launched what is believed to be the first course on Holocaust literature taught at an American college or university.

“Professor Larry Langer was a brilliant writer and thinker. His scholarship on the Holocaust was ground-breaking, and it defied all of the conventional wisdom both about the Holocaust and about Holocaust victims and survivors,” says Diane Grossman, interim dean of the Gwen Ifill College of Media, Arts, and Humanities. “Larry was also a dedicated teacher who pushed his students to challenge their assumptions about literature and about moral conduct. A real force of nature, Larry was a prickly elder statesman who always demanded that Simmons be better than we thought we could be.”

His enduring legacy includes several books he wrote about the Holocaust, starting with The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination (1976), a finalist for the National Book Award. Professor Langer’s 1991 book, Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory, was named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by the New York Times Sunday Book Review. One of his last books, unrelated to the Holocaust, was Hierarchy and Mutuality in Paradise Lost, Moby-Dick and The Brothers Karamazov (2022).

Over the years, Professor Langer garnered many honors, including appointments from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the research center of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Simmons awarded him an honorary degree in 1996.

One published account of Professor Langer’s life notes that “His serious work was always well-balanced by his endless laughter, days working in his garden, enjoying classical music, and summers at his home in Wellfleet, Mass.” His wife, Sandy, children, grand- and great-grandchildren are in our thoughts.

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Lynn Perry Wooten