on 11 September 2000
Victor Klemperer's diary begins on the 14th January 1933. It is a diary of the details of life : promotion at work, his cat, the building of his house and his literature. Yet even here in his first entry is the dark side. He believes that the cats are the only things that give Eva , his wife a firm hold on life. One wonders why this is so and why they cannot obtain credit. It is 1933 near Dresden and Victor Klemperer is keeping a diary which would cost him his life if it was discovered. The diary chronicles his and his wife's inexorable degredation and humiliation. This man's honesty and commitment to truth is inspiring. Each day another piece of civilization is removed, another of his rights as a human being is witheld. One wonders : how would I stand up to this if this were me ? It must also be said that one wonders : would I have the courage to say a simple good morning to this jew wearing the star of David ?
With hindsight we know what is in store for the Klemperers. We know all about the Holocaust and the death camps. It is so much more touching then to read of his concerns about his newly purchased second hand car and his difficulties in learning to drive. Simultaneously we read of the mundane daily issues of life : buying shoes or fending off the cold against the backdrop of the speaches by Hitler and the steadily rising anti semitic climate in Germany. Victor takes us with him through the years from 1933 until 1941 . His style of writing reflects his background in literature. Simultaneously he is fiercely obsessed with what he will eat while being dismayed at the disintegration of society. His story is utterly sad. We feel embarrassed at his treatment by his erstwhile neighbours and friends . We wonder how people can treat another person like this : how ordinary people can be brainwashed into acts of depravity and cruelty. People just like those who live opposite us today.
How easy it seems that the veneer of society can be stripped away by fear. Then , just as we despair of humankind someone will come along and risk their own lives simply by saying good morning to him. Piece by piece, a little at a time the Nazis take away his dignity and his health. But no, because at no time , never, do we ever feel that the Nazis can break this man. He, this ragged humiliated man is the one left carrying the standard of what it means to maintain personal dignity while those around him who regard him as less than human have themselves lost their self respect and humanity and the tragedy is that they remain unaware of what has befallen them.
When this book has been read it will remain as a benchmark for you. It is a life against which you can compare your own. Whenever you feel hard done to by life if you take the time to think for a moment of Victor Klemperer then you will be quite happy to pick up your own problems and just get on with it.
on 15 June 2010
In my experience I have found that diaries of this importance need to be read through in their entirety: one needs to 'live' through the diarist's entries. In this way truly great and important diaries can recreate the past with a vividness that is unattainable elsewhere. The character of the diarist also then shines through and in Viktor Klemperer we are in the presence of a kind, wise, intelligent, cultured and humane man. The events he describes in his two volumes from 1933 to 1945 are, I think, the most important record of their type to have survived and are in the first rank of historical importance. If anything good came out of the raid on Dresden in 1945 it is that Klemperer and his wife were able to escape. It is sublimely joyful that Klemperer survived the Nazi era and was able to bear witness so magnificently. His post-war work on the Language of the Third Reich (Lingua Tertii Imperii - LTI) is also highly recommended.
on 19 February 2001
Victor Klemperer was an academic and as such could be described as foolhardy to keep a diary in a time of such oppression and terrorism. But I fear that he was just a man who had to write down all that happened to him because it was just his nature. Thank God he did write it down. Such contemporaneous notes mean that no burnishing or filling in of details with half truths when memoirs are written long after the event. These diary notes come out of the page and leave one in dread and fear. The reader sees almost more than the writer, he was almost too near to the action. to see what would have happened to him if the diaries were found. Certain death should have visited him when considering how many times he was interrogated and the house was searched. We all owe this Catholic Jew who just happened to be there when all this murder and maiming was going on. Just how one man, Hitler, could take a modern educated nation to the edge is impossible to explain. I now look forward to the diaries that cover the rest of the war. If you have any interest in modern social history then read this. Klemperer had no time to sit, consider and ruminate as an historian would, he just made notes to himself that we are now lucky enough to be able to read. It gives a wonderful insight to the life and times of the second world war from a very different perspective.
on 18 November 2006
This is an important and moving account of life for a jewish professor in Nazi Germany. Along with Vol 2., "To the Bitter End", it is perhaps the finest documentary evidence of real-life for jews at that time. Stunning, and a great tribute to the man.