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The Lesser Evil: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer, 1945-1959: Lesser Evil, 1945-1959 [Abridged] [Paperback]

Victor Klemperer
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Jun 2004

This volume opens in June 1945. The immediate postwar period produces many shocks and revelations - some people have behaved better than Klemperer had believed, others much worse. His sharp observations are now turned on the East German Communist Party, which he himself joins, and he notes many similarities between Nazi and Communist behaviour. Politics, he comes to believe, is above all the choice of the "lesser evil". He is made a professor in Greifswald, then in Berlin and Halle. His wife Eva dies in 1951 but within a year at the age of 70 he marries one of his students, an unlikely but successful love-match. He serves in the GDR's People's Chamber and represents East German scholarship abroad. But it is the details of everyday life, and the honesty and directness, that make these diaries so fascinating.

'Klemperer was a shrewd judge of human nature and unsparing of his own. As a diarist he is in the Pepys class...' (Norman Lebrecht, Spectator)

Frequently Bought Together

The Lesser Evil: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer, 1945-1959: Lesser Evil, 1945-1959 + To The Bitter End: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1942-45: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer, 1942-1945: To the Bitter End, 1942-45 v. 2 + I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries Of Victor Klemperer 1933-41: I Shall Bear Witness, 1933-41 Vol 1
Price For All Three: 27.86

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Product details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New Ed edition (3 Jun 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753817942
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753817940
  • Product Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 258,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


The third and final volume of the diaries of Victor Klemperer, Dresden Jew and Holocaust survivor, whose 1933-45 diaries have already been hailed as one of the 20th century's most important chronicles.

Book Description

The third and final volume of the diaries of Victor Klemperer, a Jew in Dresden who survived the war and whose diaries have been hailed as one of the 20th century's most important chronicles.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars End-of-life diaries in the early GDR 27 Sep 2009
By Jezza
Hard to read this without a deep sense of melancholy. Klemperer remains convinced that his decision to stay in the East was the right one (the lesser evil) because West German had failed to de-Nazify itself - he seems to believe that it was not only run by former Nazis (more or less true) but that anti-semitism was overt and rampant there (probably false). As the end of his approaches he becomes less and less sure that he made the right choice, which is painful to read. At times he tries to be a Marxist, but ends up admitting that he has become an anti-communist (the more so after a visit to China).

He seizes on every incident that justifies this view to himself; but he also notes the many cases of Jew-spotting or Jew-hatred in the East. He participates in the academic and "cultural" life of the GDR, and to some extent the politics, but he clearly hates it. The book is least interesting when he is cataloguing the petty slights the set his career back, but his honesty in the diaries is always rewarding - he writes about the loss of his wife, his very mixed feelings towards the Russians, and similarly about the very limited extent to which he is a Jew.

In the last pages his physical deterioration is very evident, which only compounds the sad feeling of the end - coupled with his self-examination of his life's achievements, it's rather painful.

The book is a long slog (I managed about five pages a night for months) but I am glad I read it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Insight 1 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Klemperer, a Jewish academic managed to survive the war period and starts to piece his life back together back in his old house against the background of the ruins of Dresden and the birth pangs of the Cold War which divided Germany. It is interesting how the euphoria of surviving the Nazi regime is soon over taken by constant worries about food, fuel, the difficulties of traveling around and worries about the future. Klemperer describes the often petty politics of those involved in trying to re-establish educational institutions and the queasy feeling induced by the those trying to use his status as victim of fascism to support their various claims and to distance themselves from involvement in the previous regime. The detail about the influence of the Russians and the groundwork for the creation of the GDR is also very enlightening.

However the text is necessarily abridged and therefore can be difficult to follow for readers unfamiliar with the background. There are many names and initials to deal with. Possibly the translation is a little literal at times which makes the prose clunky, but always a problem to differentiate between strict accuracy to the original and a more English style.

Overall not an easy read but very interesting for those interested in the war period particularly the difficulties of dealing with the impact of the Nazi regime.
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5.0 out of 5 stars best trilogy of books 7 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
last of three very fine and entertaining books human with warts and all so often unbelievable next creased up with laughter read these fifteen yrs ago read them again now ang just as good and compelling
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When Reason is All but not Enough 29 Nov 2007
By Richard A. Preto-rodas - Published on
Victor Klemperer's The Lesser Evil completes his three volume diary as a Jewish college professor in Germany from 1933 to 1959. In this volume, he covers the years from the end of the Second World War until his final illness and to my mind provides the most rewarding literary experience. To be sure, his account of the tightening Nazi noose following Hitler's ascension to power and the horrors and restrictions of the war years as a Jew married to an "Aryan" woman have few equals in Holocaust literature. Only the fire bombing of Dresden on the eve of a scheduled deportation of his city's remaining handful of Jews and their spouses allowed him to survive. But the post-war years provide the fascinating portrait of a genteel intellectual dedicated to the rule of reason (a major scholarly pursuit as a Professor of Romance Languages and Literature involves his work on the French Enlightenment) trying to balance between the resurgent militarism and consumerism of the triumphant western powers and the repression of a socialist German Democratic Republic, the title's "lesser evil" where he chooses to live. Klemperer is keenly aware of his own inconsistencies as a secular humanist with a deep appreciation of traditional spiritual values, often describing his situation as one of falling between the two chairs of the East-West confrontation that became the Cold War. In 1951, the grieving widower remarries within a year, feeling both guilt and gratitude and humbled by two women more talented and generous than himself. Hardly heroic, he manages to seem admirable as he struggles to keep afloat despite terrible times and petty academic politics.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Between Two Stools And Confused! 13 Mar 2010
By Richard C. Geschke - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This diary by Victor Klemperer represents the good Professor's private thoughts of life as he saw it in East Germany during the post war years of 1945 through 1959. Having been lucky enough to survive WWII as a Jew living in Germany, one would think that life in post war Germany would be much easier. At the end of the war Klemperer and his wife Eva found themselves in the American occupation sector. Despite being Jewish and with his hometown of Dresden almost completely destroyed, he insists on returning and living in the Russian East German sector.
As described in the diary, we see how Russia deals with the reeducation and punishment of Nazi's and how surviving Jews are upgraded in German society. Klemperer tells us of his re-installment as a full Professor and becomes a published Author and man of letters. During this post war period Klemperer becomes involved in Communist politics and asserts that life in the GDR (East Germany) is the lesser evil of the two Germanys during this "Cold War" period. It is this ongoing inner argument of which German government is right that puts Klemperer in the so called position of "between two stools", which means he can't please all the people he associates with because he seeks one true and benevolent entity but neither one really suffices.
Along with Klemperer's inner political torture, he has to deal with the death of his first wife Eva and the marriage to his very young wife Hadwig. Klemperer mentions death all during his 15 years of diary entries much as he did during his war entries. His health as he says was always bad, much as during the Nazi regime. In retrospect bad health or not, Klemperer lived over 78 years.
Klemperer shows his struggles and inner doubts along with his desire for fulfillment, vanity and the search for academic excellence. In many instances he is much too hard on himself. His diary marks the time of life in a Germany which no longer exists. In the end politics in Germany aggravated him to no end. In retrospect there really was no "lesser evil".
This last diary from Klemperer gives great insight from an educated man living behind the iron curtain. This is a fitting finale of a set of diaries on the order of Samuel Pepys.
25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pity it is so much missing 8 May 2005
By J. Kertesz - Published on
I was excited to read the rest of his life and journal : I do like a lot how he writes. I do not like at all, all the editorial cuts and even less when they felt they have to remplace it with a cold short story "what was cut" altering a lot the flow of reading.

Or it was not important, and they could have put (...) like elsewere, or they should have left it there. His journals are so important, I am so sorry that I cannot read German, where they are twice as long. Already, the second wife cut some from his words, now the editors and the translators. Really pity !
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much, much less interesting than the first two, but it has its moments. If you started the series you might as well finish it 29 Dec 2012
By Meaghan - Published on
This third Klemperer diary is much less exciting than the previous two (unsurprising, as the Nazi years and the war are now over) and also much less comprehensive. The first diary covered nine years; the second three and a half; this one covers a little over thirteen years in about the same number of pages as the first two books. The editor marked omissions with ellipses, and I don't know if there was a single entry that didn't have at least one. Sometimes entire entries were eliminated and the editor summarized them in brackets. But, looking at what was left, I don't think I missed much.

After the armistice Victor Klemperer and his wife Eva experienced a remarkable, 180-degree turn of fortune. They got their house back. He was feted by everybody, as they were all anxious to demonstrate that THEY had not been Jew-hating Nazis, thank you very much (try Googling the Chad Mitchell Trio song "The I Was Not A Nazi Polka" to see what I mean). Wealth, fame and international travel, to as far away as China, followed as Klemperer's academic career rose from the grave and he became a minor celebrity within East Germany.

Yet from my reading of the diary I can't say Klemperer's postwar years were happy ones. He considered Communism the "lesser evil" to capitalism, but he was uneasy about the similarities he noticed between the Communist government and the Nazis. He witnessed the revival of anti-Semitism and the rise of Holocaust denial. He got embroiled in petty academic infighting while becoming convinced that his star was only on the ascendancy for lack of competitors within East Germany. Eva Klemperer died in 1951 and Victor remarried within a year to Hadwig, a former student who was twenty-five years to his seventy. They deeply loved one another, but he felt guilty for his seeming "betrayal" of Eva and for denying Hadwig her youth and the possibility of children. And, in the final years, his health went into a marked decline, forcing Hadwig to be a nursemaid to him more often than not.

Were it not for the deep impression Klemperer's earlier diaries made on me, and my determination to see his life through, I probably would not have finished this book. But this diary is a good picture of what life was like during the early years of the German Democratic Republic, before the Berlin Wall was erected, and therefore it's of much historical interest. Unlike the first two diaries I think this one can stand on its own.
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting personal journey 4 Dec 2013
By Fred Voto - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The third volume of Victor Klemperer's diaries is not as dramatic as his first two but riveting nonetheless. I felt as if I knew him personally and look forward to his other writings.
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