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He was a student of philosophy, Romance and German studies at universities in Munich , Geneva , Paris and Berlin from to , and later worked as a journalist and writer in Berlin, until he resumed his studies in Munich from Though not a religious man, Victor Klemperer needed a religious identity, as Jew, Christian or dissident, to support his academic career.

He chose Christianity as being most compatible with his much stronger conviction of being German, and became baptised again in Berlin in He completed his doctorate on Montesquieu in and was habilitated under the supervision of Karl Vossler in From to , Klemperer lectured at the University of Naples , after which he became a decorated military volunteer in World War I.

Despite his conversion to Protestantism in and his strong identification with German culture, Klemperer's life started to worsen considerably after the Nazis' seizure of power in Klemperer's diary, which he kept up throughout the Nazi era, provides an exceptional account of day-to-day life under the tyranny of the Third Reich. Two of the three volumes of his diaries that have been published in English translations, I Will Bear Witness and To the Bitter End , concern this period.

This diary also details the Nazis' perversion of the German language for propaganda purposes in entries that Klemperer used as the basis for his postwar book LTI — Lingua Tertii Imperii. Klemperer's diary chiefly chronicles the daily life of restricted Jews during the Nazi terror, including the onset of a succession of prohibitions concerning many aspects of everyday existence, such as finances, transportation, medical care, the maintenance and use of household help, food and diet, and the possession of appliances, newspapers, and other items.

He also gives accounts of suicides, household searches, and the deportation of his friends, mostly to Theresienstadt.

Throughout his experience, Klemperer maintained his sense of identity as a German, expressing even in that " I am German, and still waiting for the Germans to come back; they have gone to ground somewhere". Especially in the final weeks of the war and immediately after Germany's surrender, when Klemperer was free to mix and talk with or eavesdrop on a wide variety of Germans, his observations of the "German" identity show how complex this question was, and why it was so central to his purpose in writing the LTI and his journals.


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In the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed removing all non-Aryan professors from their profession, with the exemption of those who had fought in World War I. This exemption allowed Klemperer to continue in his position a little longer, although without the right to use the University library or other faculty privileges. However Klemperer was gradually forced out of his job and forced to retire.

Although he was allowed to keep part of his pension, the money quickly ran out and he and his wife had to take cleaning jobs. The couple lost their right to drive and had to sell their car, and their housekeeper had to resign due to the law against Jews employing Aryan women. Eventually the Klemperers were forced to put down their household cat, a tomcat named Muschel, because of a restriction as to Jews' ownership of pets.

One of the Nazi laws forced every Jewish female or male to add Sarah or Israel, respectively, as a middle name on all official documents. Klemperer removed the "Israel," a mandate so typical of the Nazi regime, the minute he could safely do so. That same year, and subsequently, Klemperer was so dismayed with the spread of antisemitism, even among those who professed to be against the Nazis, that he from time to time entertained the possibility of fleeing to the US.

A later diary entry—for April 10, —records other problems with emigration: "Meeting with the emigration adviser of the Jewish Community, result less than zero: You really must get out—we see no possibility. American-Jewish committees support only observant Jews. During the pogrom later in November their house was searched by Nazis who found Klemperer's saber from World War I—he was arrested briefly and released. Since his wife, Eva, was " Aryan ", Klemperer avoided deportation, often narrowly, but in , he and his wife were rehoused under miserable conditions in a "Jews' House" Judenhaus with other "mixed couples".

Here, and especially when he ventured out, or at factories where he was forced to work, he was routinely questioned, mistreated, and humiliated by the Gestapo , Hitler Youth members and Dresden citizens. Only because of his wife the couple were able to procure food enough to subsist. One quickly comes to feel one is living with the Klemperers, if only as a fly on the wall, as they struggle to complete the construction of their "dream house" in a suburb just outside Dresden — Eva's obsession despite their having to subsist on a modest pension after her husband losses his university post.

The daily visits to the house site as they scrape together the money to lay a foundation, then construct modest living quarters and, of course, a garden, seem like an exercise in futility, given what the reader knows is going to happen a few years later. You want to shout at them, "Get out! Get out! Besides, Hitler really did seem too extreme, too downright surreal, to last much longer odd, that in America he was seen as a "moderate" who would keep the Bolshevik menace in check. And, besides, as the author of these diaries keeps asserting, he, Victor Klemperer, is a German, a real German, not like the aberrations who had taken over his country, though his faith in that identity is sorely tried over the next twelve years.

Full text of "I Will Bear Witness A Diary Of The Nazi Years"

The course of the Klemperer marriage, however inadvertent, is continuous and detailed. In the '30s, Victor is careful to not complain about Eva's morning fits or constant dental emergencies or her obsession with the house, but the reader wonders what is going on in the woman's mind, when with the hindsight of history the dreadful future seems so clearly written on the wall. But as the years pass and the noose tightens economically and in every other way around the necks of Jews, Eva meets each new deprivation with remarkable personal resources, not just sharing all of her husband's social and economic disabilities but assisting neighbors in need in the "Jews houses" where the Klemperers are finally forced to live, right down to scrubbing their floors.

She also risks her freedom as an Aryan she could have secured her own status simply by divorcing him , if not her life, by smuggling the manuscript pages of his diary to an Aryan safe house. Using her Aryan ration card she spends hours each day scrounging for food mostly potatoes, sometimes rotten. And, yet, the Klemperers maintain a remarkably active social life, mostly with others marked as Jews but also with a handful of Aryans.

In the end, the diaries reveal the slow maturing of two human beings who are already well into middle age at the point the diaries open. Victor evolves from a slightly ivory-towerish academic into a more fully rounded person capable of both empathy and a sense of complexity for the people, all the people, he lives among; Eva, from a house-hungry spouse with possibly a grievance about the loss of her own chance at a career into a courageous and devoted spouse and neighbor.

Their marriage and love for one another grows stronger with each new stress placed upon them. What seems in the early pages of the diaries a marriage held together perhaps largely by routine and convenience, by its mid-point has become a thing of unshakable devotion and deep affection.

The diaries provide documentation of many different aspects of German society under the Third Reich, despite the restriction of their being written from one man's point of view. Among these is the obvious fact that many Germans had no use for Hitler, were sympathetic to those the Nazis designated as Jews or otherwise non-Aryan and, as might be expected in a situation where getting the wherewithal just to survive became more and more difficult, were largely ignorant of the strictures Jews were living under.

Why else would they risk their own freedom and lives by befriending and assisting individual Jews? There are far too many of these acts, some of them a good deal more substantial than what I've indicated, to put them down to anything other than sincerity. And on the question of what ordinary Germans knew about the "Final Solution," even Jews themselves didn't realize what shipment to Theresienstadt meant until the last year or two of the war.

For a time they even entertained a belief that in Theresienstadt they would at least have a better diet and get decent medical care. It's hard to believe non-Jews could have known something more, at least not ordinary working stiffs, despite the manic, irrational broadcasts by Goebbels blaming "World Jewry" for all the evils in the world in one he insists the Jews using their American dupes were bombing Rome in order to destroy Christianity, just a first step in their plan to kill all the gentiles in the world.

Even when the truth becomes clear about Auschwitz and the other death camps, some supporters of Hitler insist the Fuehrer could not have known about the camps because he was a "man of peace. National Socialism was already [in ] Except that at the time I did not yet see it like that. How comforting and depressing that is!

Depressing: Hitler really was in line with the will of the German people.

I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years 1942-1945

Comforting: One never really knows what is going on. Then the Republic seemed secure, today the Third Reich appears secure. Until and for at least a good century before that, the German Jews were entirely German and nothing else The anti-Semitism, which was always present, is not at all evidence to the contrary. Because the friction between Jews and Aryans was not half as great as that between Protestants and Catholics, or between employers and employees or between East Prussians for example and southern Bavarians or Rhinelanders and Bavarians.

The Language of the Third Reich

One wonders how this could be the same country, never mind the same city. These "good" Germans give Victor hope, though by the end he believes the entire nation will have to be reeducated in the values he believes to have been essential to German culture dating back to the Enlightenment he blames Romanticism for Nazism.

He, happily, lives to see that day and even to reclaim his former professorship at the Technical University of Dresden, which lay then in the Soviet zone and becomes part of East Germany. One wonders why these diaries are not more widely read as firsthand witness for that horrific period of German history. Is it because life as Klemperer records it is too complex for our sound-bite culture some of the older men in the Jews House cheer for the Wehrmacht — they had fought against the Brits and French in the first world war and can't bring themselves to change sides.

I keep expecting him to change his mind about Zionism after the slaughter of Jews goes into high gear in , but he sticks to his guns. He fully expects to be one of the slaughtered, watches as his neighbors are taken away in twos and threes.

I WILL BEAR WITNESS: A DIARY OF THE NAZI YEARS, 1942-1945

He loses his faith in the Germany he believed in before , but he never loses faith in the principles he believes that culture exemplified at its best. It's impossible to summarize a work as varied and rich as these diaries, never mind give a sense for the experience of living through those years vicariously with the Klemperers.


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The diaries end in with a return to their suburban home after living for several weeks as refugees in Bavaria. But that return is, of course, just another beginning. The volume of the diary that takes up where these two leave off extends as far as and was published in Britain, but not in the US. Klemperer died the following year, , of a heart attack. It's January The war is swirling around him and the deportations have begun in earnest. One by one Klemperer's friends are arrested, deported or commit suicide; he himself expects to be picked up at any time and contemplates ending his life.

But he is determined to live, to "bear witness" to the atrocities around him, the many greater and lesser agonies he and other Jews endure. He is reproached at one point by an acquaintance who tells him no one is going to care about the details he records, and Klemperer responds, "It's not the big things that are important to me, but the everyday life of tyranny, which gets forgotten. A thousand mosquito bites are worse than a blow to the head. I observe, note down the mosquito bites. He writes, "Taken individually ninety-nine percent of the male and female workers are undoubtedly more or less extremely anti-Nazi, well-disposed to the Jews, opposed to the war, weary of tyranny The bombing probably saved his life; the last of the Jews were being rounded up and he expected his turn to come any day now, but in the chaos that followed the attack on the city, he and his wife took the opportunity to take off his star, change their names and run like hell.

So the reader follows them to their trek across Germany to the American occupation zone and safety. Then, after the armistice, their two-week journey back to Dresden mostly on foot. The end of the war is not the end of their troubles, alas. But they reach Dresden and are well-received there, and will pick up their lives where they left off. This is a very intelligent, observant and dedicated diarist, and these books are an inestimably important work of history. I look forward to reading the third and last volume, detailing Klemperer's life in post-war Communist Germany. This is as engrossing as the first volume, and is well worth spending the time to read it, tho much is painful--sustained by the knowledge that he survives.

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