35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 6 November 2000
By any literary standards, this is a quite extraordinary book. I closed the last of the 939 pages convinced that I had completed one of the half dozen most importants books I'd ever read in my life.
Because now we REALLY know just what it was like to be a Jew in Nazi Germany. Sure, we've read other books and studied, fascinated and horrified, the many tapes of Hitler and his gang in their pomp, at their most bestial. But few books have ever documented so precisely, so accurately, so disturbingly the gross deprivations, the wilful cruelties of life for the Jew in the Reich years.
Klemperer was a distinguished academic who suffered steady demotion in his work before finally losing his job and any opportunity of other work. But time on his hands, although a painful process to endure from a psychological point of view, gave Klemperer the chance to wield a formidable pen in defiance of his foes. The world should be grateful to him for his courage and bravery in compiling these diaries for betrayal or the emergence of them before the mayhem was over would have meant certain death. Victor Klemperer and his Aryan wife (her presence alone ensured he survived the early banishment to the concentration camps) somehow lived through and emerged from a nightmare. Vivid confirmation of the hunger, the cruel taunts of ordinary Germans and the appalling deprivations are listed here in meticulous detail.
But what is most revealing are the little psychological cruelties, the true trait of the madmen, in Germany at that time. Two things struck me especially. Jews were eventually banned from buying flowers, the simplest of pleasures to brighten one's home and one's life. And then, a decree is issued demanding that all pets belonging to Jews be put down. The Klemperers are unable to prevent their beloved little cat meeting such a fate.
To suffer physical deprivation is bad enough. But to endure constant mental angst through week after week, month following month and year after year requires a fortitude and stoicism that might just be beyond many of us today.
The story of just how Klemperer actually survived the entire war in Germany is revealed within these pages. It makes for compelling reading. But for anyone studying the period, any student of the Nazi horror, this book ought to be required reading.
It is at once disturbing and horrifying yet, equally, warm and moving. The miracle of deliverance, which Klemperer never expected, is sufficient to move the reader close to tears. It is a powerful book of enormous importance to this and every generation that follows.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 October 2008
This is a gripping, fascinating book with lots of detail about the life of surviving German Jews in Nazi Germany. A couple of observations: Klemperer is at pains to point out the many Germans who took some risks to be kind, or at least human, towards him and other Jews; the pettiness and the thoroughness of the Nazi persecution is stunning -- like the regulations which prevented Jews, or their Aryan marriage partners, from keeping pets and also prevented them from passing those pets on to other people, so that the Klemperers had to have their cat put down by a vet; the ignorance and the uncertainty through which everyone in Germany, Jew and 'Aryan', perceived the course of the war -- we know how it turned out, but many in Germany seemed to believe that the Nazis were going to win the war long after that ceased to be even remotely plausible.
One other observation that I should perhaps keep to myself, but can't resist -- Klemperer as a German Jew is not a very attractive person, the more so after my reading of Amos Elon's 'The Pity of It All'. Klemperer is baptised, says his 'baptism was not a comedy' but does not seem to be any kind of Christian; at least he never refers to any aspect of Christian thought or sentiment in making sense of his suffering. He suffers as a Jew, but as a German Jew - one who seems to believe in the enduring superiority of German culture and in the unfairness of attempts to define him as outside of it.
For me being Jewish is at least partly about the experience of having a foot in two cultures and two identities - German Jews never seem to have felt that, but rather to have believed themselves to have been a particular kind of German tribe, like the Saxons.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 15 November 2003
Its almost two years ago that i read Victor Klemperer amazing story. And yet it still haunts me. Although i have read an extensive amount of literature about WW2 this was the book that somehow gave me an understanding - and somehow an answer to the question thats been bugging me for years: Why was it possible for the germans to proceed with the Holocaust?
Klemperers diary gave me somekind of an answer. And he does it beautifully by writing about the daily life - as a german and a Jew in Germany during Hitlers regime from 1933-45. As a reader its like being there. He is not a hero - not a fearless warrior - just an ordinary university teacher. And yet he survived somehow. Please read this book if you really want to know how it was being a Jew in Germany under nazi rule. Or - read it just because its such a amazing story.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 29 November 2000
This book is a thoroughly absorbing and detailed account of life in Germany under Hitler during the second world war. As Klemperer often emphasises in his entries, the mere act of keeping a diary was in itself an act of great bravery. Klemperer never forgot the risk he was putting his wife and friend Anne-Marie (who stored his notes) under either. Klemperer watched friends disappear one-by-one to Aushwitz and all the time feared it would be his turn next. This book was a pleasure to read and is testament to the spirit and bravery of the man.
on 4 September 2014
I have read both volumes of Klemperer's diaries. A highly intelligent and cultured professor, who had served in the German army in WW1, he happened to be a Jew who found himself living in Dresden when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Over the following 12 years increasing indignities and horrors were imposed upon him, his survival being due to his marriage to an Aryan wife, who stood steadfastly by him. The diaries are beautifully written by a man who was a professor of languages and the translation into English is superb. His unswerving commitment to his homeland is there throughout, despite the criminality of those who happened to be in charge. He endeavours to continue his academic work and relates the day-to-day events and even the trivia of domestic life. Throughout it all he gives unique insight into the political events both domestically and from what he can see in the wider world. Overwhelming the entire narrative is the steady descent into increasing humiliation and deprivation, he lost his job, his home, his car, even his cat; he was prevented from riding the trams and deprived of food, clothing and even the privacy of a place to live. Finally being put to forced labour, with impending deportation to the death camps close at hand, the Allied bombing of Dresden destroyed the "order" that was set to destroy him and he survived. An eminently readable, moving and shocking testimony to one aspect of the horrors inflicted on innocent victims by the evil Nazi regime.
on 17 September 2014
Everyone really must read Victor Klemperer's diaries. They have to be the most important and enlightening works about life in Nazi Germany. We're so lucky that he had the bravery to keep writing and others to hide them,so that now we can try and comprehend the awfulness. Completely impossible to put down and I will return to them often,I am indebted to Victor Klemperer,maybe the greatest Klemperer of all!! What a man,what a diary. P.s. you must obviously read 'I Shall Bear Witness' first! Follow 'To the Bitter End' with 'The Lesser Evil' although obviously not as enthralling as the first two volumes still wonderful to continue with this great journey.