I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years 1941-1945 (Volume 2)


"The best written, most evocative, most observant record of daily life in the Third Reich."
-Amos Elon, The New York Times

Victor Klemperer risked his life to preserve these diaries so that he could, as he wrote, "bear witness" to the gathering hor-ror of the Nazi regime. The son of a Berlin rabbi, Klemperer was a German patriot who served with honor during the First World War, married a gentile, and converted to Protestantism. He was a ...
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"The best written, most evocative, most observant record of daily life in the Third Reich."
-Amos Elon, The New York Times

Victor Klemperer risked his life to preserve these diaries so that he could, as he wrote, "bear witness" to the gathering hor-ror of the Nazi regime. The son of a Berlin rabbi, Klemperer was a German patriot who served with honor during the First World War, married a gentile, and converted to Protestantism. He was a professor of Romance languages at the Dresden Technical Institute, a fine scholar and writer, and an intellectual of a somewhat conservative disposition.

Unlike many of his Jewish friends and academic colleagues, he feared Hitler from the start, and though he felt little allegiance to any religion, under Nazi law he was a Jew. In the years 1933 to 1941, covered in the first volume of these diaries, Klemperer's life is not yet in danger, but he loses his professorship, his house, even his typewriter; he is not allowed to drive, and since Jews are forbidden to own pets, he must put his cat to death. Because of his military record and marriage to a "full-blooded Aryan," he is spared deportation, but nevertheless, Klemperer has to wear the yellow Jewish star, and he and his wife, Eva, are subjected to the ever-increasing escalation of Nazi tyranny. The distinguished historian Peter Gay, in The New York Times Book Review, wrote that Klemperer's "personal history of how the Third Reich month by month, sometimes week by week, accelerated its crusade against the Jews gives as accurate a picture of Nazi trickery and brutality as we are likely to have...a report from the interior that tells the horrifying story of the evolving Nazipersecution...with a concrete, vivid power that is, and I think will remain, unsurpassed."

This volume begins in 1942, the year of the Final Solution, and ends in 1945, with the devastation of Hitler's Germany. Rumors of the death camps soon reach the Jews of Dresden, now jammed into their so-called Jews' houses, starved, humiliated, subject day and night to Gestapo raids, and terrified as, one by one, their neighbors are taken away. Klemperer is made to shovel snow, is assigned to do forced labor in a factory, is taunted on the streets by gangs of boys, but his life is spared, thanks to the privileged status of Jews married to Aryans. In the final days of the war, however, even Jews in mixed marriages are summoned to report for transport to "labor camps," which Klemperer now knows means death, and that his turn will soon come. He is saved by the great Dresden air raid of February 13, 1945; he and his wife survive the fiery destruction of their city and make their way to the Allied lines. "In the enthralling and appalling final pages of this miraculous work," wrote Niall Ferguson in the London Sunday Telegraph, "Klemperer all too soon encounters the deliberate amnesia of the defeated Germany: 'What is "Gestapo"?' declares a Breslau woman he encounters in May 1945. 'I've never heard the word. I've never been interested in politics, I don't know anything about the persecution of the Jews.'" Says Ferguson, "Of all the books I have read on this subject, I find it hard to think of one which has taught me more."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This second volume of Klemperer's diary of the Nazi years confirms its place alongside Anne Frank's diary and Elie Wiesel's Night in the pantheon of Holocaust literature. Yet in many ways it is a more valuable source for the historian and general reader, as Klemperer gives the most finely detailed and intricately delineated portrait of the Nazi era for the man-in-the-street. Granted, as a Jew married to an "Aryan" woman, and with his incredible capacity to see what his fellow Germans couldn't or wouldn't see, Klemperer was no ordinary German. Rather, he was an ordinary man in his desire to live freely--and in his empathy. The defining characteristic of the diary is how he maintains a capacity for the human in the face of the barbaric. On the first day of the new year 1942, Klemperer writes: "It is said children still have a sense of wonder, later one becomes blunted.--Nonsense. A child takes things for granted, and most people get no further; only an old person, who thinks, is aware of the wondrous." Exactly one year later he writes: "The paper shortage is so great that I was unable to come by a block calendar.... I miss the calendar more than I can say. Time stands still." From paper shortages to the suicides of 3,000-4,000 Jews in the autumn of 1941 when the meaning of deportation was starting to sink in, there is no better portrayal of daily life for the Jews in Nazi Germany. As a philologist, Klemperer was engaged in a meticulous and revealing study of the Nazi lexicon. This study was interrupted by his forced labor (April 1943-June 1944), but the compulsory work was mitigated by the impending Nazi defeat. The Allied bombing of Dresden in February 1945 is recounted in dramatic, breathless fashion over the course of eight pages. The bombing permits Klemperer to escape the fate of other European Jews and throws him and his wife into a strange journey through the German countryside during the spring and summer of 1945. Klemperer states that their return to Dresden was "a fairytale." They were greeted by an old man who lost his wife and whose dog had been stolen by the Russians, and by their neighbor, Frau Glaser, who welcomed them with "tears and kisses." In its depiction of the great and small injustices and barbarities of living under the Nazis, Klemperer's diary is a timeless piece of literature. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
This second volume completes the publication of Klemperer's secret diary, which offers an insider's view of what it was like to live as a Jew in Nazi Germany. A literary landmark.
Entertainment Weekly
This diary of a Jewish professor gives a reckoning of life in Nazi Germany from 1933 through the middle of World War II.
Thomas Powers
Klemperer never knew that he had written a book as great as any he had ever read.
London Review of Books
Volume II, translated and abridged by Martin Chalmers, is an even more striking, more emotionally vivid account of the Nazi years than Volume I, which covered the years 1933 to 194. Taken together, the Klemperer diaries stand as an unparalleled and intimate record from the innards of the beast. What makes them unparalleled is the thunderous accumulation of the small details that escape standard historical accounts -- the psychology of wearing the yellow star, the effort to face Gestapo interrogations with courage, the anti-Semitic taunts of children on the street, the ban on having clothes washed in "Aryan" laundries. Then, at the very end, comes what is perhaps the most remarkable part in this monumental two-volume work. It is Klemperer's account of the phantasmagorical few weeks before and after the German surrender, when he and his wife, in a grim, necessary bid to survive, underwent a harrowing Odyssean journey through the physical and spiritual wreckage of the war...There is an enormous amount to read in this volume, but it is difficult to put down. Not least of its elements is Klemperer's own expressed awareness that, if the diary were to be discovered in one of the many routine police searches that were carried out, it would surely mean his death. "But I shall go on writing," Klemperer says on May 27, 1942. "That is my heroism. I will bear witness, precise witness." Not just witness, but precise witness, a German trait. And in this instance, rare, illuminating and priceless.
The New York Times
The New Yorker
Remarkable...I Will Bear Witness is a self-portrait of rare candor and shrewdness; it may also come to be seen as one of the central documents of the twentieth century.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375502408
  • Publisher: Random House, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/21/2000
  • Series: I Will Bear Witness Series
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 576
  • Product dimensions: 6.68 (w) x 9.46 (h) x 1.71 (d)

Meet the Author

A professor of Romance languages in Dresden, Victor Klemperer wrote several major works on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French literature before he was expelled from his post in 1935. He lived through the war in Dresden with his wife, Eva. Klemperer's secret diaries were thought for many years to have been lost or suppressed by the Communist authorities of East Germany, where Klemperer lived after the war. He wife deposited them after his death in 1960 in the Dresden Landesarchiv, where they remained until they were uncovered by Victor Nowojski, a former pupil, who edited and transcribed them for publication in Germany. Their reception there was a national event. The diaries have been translated into twelve languages.

About the Translator

Martin Chalmers has translated, from the German, books by Hubert Fichte, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, and Erich Fried. He is a frequent contributor to the New Statesman and The Independent, and lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

Observance at the Reform Synagogue was extremely liberal. The services themselves were conducted almost entirely in German, and on a Sunday, heads were not covered, and men and women sat together. There was no bar mitzvah; instead, at the age of fifteen or sixteen, boys and girls were confirmed together on Easter Sunday. There were neither Sabbath restrictions nor dietary proscriptions. The sermons seem, to some degree, to have expressed the ethical tradition of the German Enlightenment. In other words, services approximated Protestant practice, and Judaism here became as rational and progressive as it could be while retaining a Jewish identity. This was not the norm of Jewish congregations, but it is nevertheless exemplary of a tradition of merging with the dominant culture. The Reform Synagogue can perhaps be regarded as something of a halfway house to conversion to Protestantism, which had become common in Prussia since the early nineteenth century. (The parents of Karl Marx and Felix Mendelssohn were among only the most prominent examples; conversion, of course, remained for a long time a condition of state service.) Wilhelm Klemperer raised little objection when his own sons were baptized as Protestants. Indeed, Victor Klemperer's three elder brothers seem to have gone out of their way to deny their Jewish origins. The biographical note prefacing the doctoral thesis of Georg Klemperer, the oldest brother, begins with the words, "I was born the son of a country cleric."

Georg Klemperer, sixteen years Victor's senior, was only in his thirties by the time he had become a noted surgeon and one of Germany's most respected medical men. Felix and Berthold Klemperer were alsosuccessful, the former as a doctor, the latter as a lawyer. Berthold even married a general's daughter. The sisters were much less free and had Jewish husbands more or less chosen for them.

Wearying of school and perhaps even more of the tyranny of Georg, who dominated the family after the move to Berlin, Victor Klemperer did not continue into the upper grades. He became a commercial apprentice in a company that exported trinkets and souvenirs for sale in English seaside resorts. This move seems to have convinced the eldest brother of Victor's lack of ability and determination. Victor Klemperer was never to shake off the feeling that his brother condescended to him and regarded him as a dilettante.

The apprenticeship, at any rate, did not lead anywhere. Victor Klemperer had entered it with dreams of future independence. Within three years, however, intellectual and literary interests gained the upper hand; he also became a passionate theatergoer. (It was during this period, in his seventeenth year, that he began to keep a diary.) He went back to school, attending the same grammar school in Landsberg as his brothers, and lived in lodgings in the town. This time he completed his schooling and became primus in his final year-something like head prefect.

He then enrolled at Munich University to study literature and languages and was increasingly drawn to French literature. He spent terms in Geneva and Paris before returning to Berlin to complete the first part of his university studies. It was in Geneva that he discovered Voltaire as a writer and found his own spirit of tolerant skepticism confirmed. "Ferney [where Voltaire lived in exile from France] was the best thing about Geneva," Klemperer later wrote, and the visit to Voltaire's house was like a pilgrimage.

Victor Klemperer had now found his way intellectually, but a commitment to a figure like Voltaire was unlikely to make for a smooth academic career. Before 1914, the study of Romance literatures and culture in German universities was dominated by hostility to the "superficial" ideas of the French Enlightenment. In fact, Klemperer was unable to find a suitable professor with whom to undertake a doctoral thesis on Voltaire and, to his brothers' consternation, threw up his studies once again. For the next few years, from 1905, he tried to make a living as a writer and literary journalist. At this point it may be worth noting that, for all the scholarliness he was to display in the future, Klemperer never seems to have felt really comfortable with other academics, even liberal ones, or in conventional middle-class settings in general. Although he loved teaching, he did not deal very well with the social aspects of his profession. In his diaries he often appears more at ease with "practical" people or with craftsmen.

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Table of Contents

Preface vii
1942 1
1943 183
1944 283
1945 387
Notes 515
Chronology 535
Index 539
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2000

    Journey of a Privileged Jew

    Klemperer's second volume is better than his first. This hard-to-put-down story of a Jewish German WWI veteran married to a Protestant German woman is both an interesting and an important historical statement, as his privileged position enabled him to survive the war in Nazi Germany without going into hiding. Just barely avoiding the dreaded transports to the death camps, Klemperer witnessed and recorded the brutality of ordinary Germans in Dresden till the horrific bombings, when he and his wife managed to escape. Yet he also experienced and noted the kindness and consideration of some of Dresden's inhabitants, including those who tried selfishly to ingratiate themselves with the remaining Jews just before the end of the War, and others who risked their lives to help the Jews throughout the War. A must read for anyone interested in what day-to-day life was actually like for a Jew in Nazi Germany.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2000

    I Am Once Again Humbled By This Author's Courage

    Having read widely in the vast WWII literature published since the end of the war, I've often been both amazed and moved by vivid descriptions of wanton brutality, cruelty, and blood-lust that is so often detailed in these books. Yet seldom have I been so consistently moved and disturbed by what I read as in these two unforgettable volumes written in diary form by a German Jew who was in the curious position of being spared (due to his WWI veteran staus and the fact that he was married to a gentile) and who decides, therefore, to bear 'precise' witness to the particular constellation of horrors visted on himself and his fellow Jews during the fifteen year period of the Nazis' reign of terror. He concentrates on the day-to day details that give one a unique sense of the flavor of living in the times, and has an usual gift for detailing small but important aspects that make for interesting reading. What is especially provocative and special about his work, then, is the day to day details of the horror, the all too commonplace cruelties of the ordinary German people as well as by the formal Nazi regime. Of course, this is tempered somewhat by individual acts of compassion and heroism, but one shudders at the indifference and casual cruelties of so many ordinary gentile Germans toward their neighbors and countrymen just because of their Jewishness. Both this and the first volume (available now in paperback) are living testimony to those who doubt or question the reality or the extent of the 'final solution'. One does well to remember our recent experience with the so-called 'ethnic cleansing' in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo and the casual slaughter of innocents there to recall how easily humans of all colors and backgrounds seem to slip into barbarism. This books goes a long way toward documenting, in an unforgettable fashion, the particulars of one such descent into the depths of human depravity.

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