by Victor Klemperer, Translated by Martin Chalmers, 1999, Modern Library Paperback Edition, Random House, New York (First published in Germany under the title Ich will Aeugnis ablegen bis sum ltestn: Tagebucher 1933 von Victor Kempere, Copyright Aufbau-Verlag GmbH, Berlin, 1995).
First of all, this is a book that I wouldn’t ordinarily read but I found it in a box of books that my son had after taking a master’s degree in Eastern European History. I picked some of the books out of the box thinking I would like to check them out. I decided I would give this one a try.
It was a moving book for me to read, although it was also very tough to get through. In the first place, I don’t particularly like reading diaries. The day-to-day activities of a person seem to drag and, in this book, there is no exception. Secondly, Klemperer spends much of his time working on his writing and there is a great deal of detail about the subject of one of his books, the literary history of 18th century France. Ughh!!!
Where the book has impact, however, is in the depiction of the inexorable tightening of the restrictions on his freedoms by the Nazi regime. Klemperer and his wife, Eva, are both Protestants, but he has Jewish ancestry and is deemed to be “non-Aryan.” Because of his extraction, he is targeted with the same restrictions placed on Jews.
Klemperer is also fervently anti-Zionist and considers himself thoroughly German. He fought in the trenches in WWI and has a close affiliation with German culture – at least in the beginning of the book when the Nazis first come to power. He recognizes very early, however, that the National Socialist movement is severely flawed and that Hitler is a madman. His continually references his overriding desire to outlive the Third Reich.
The cover of the book has a quote from Time Magazine comparing it to Anne Frank’s diary. It says, “Richer and more disturbing than Anne Frank’s journals”. There is some truth to that as it reveals a similar level of anxiety and fear. On the other hand, this diary was written by a professor of literature versus a young girl. Klemperer is a master of expression and captures his thoughts and emotions extremely well. Another major difference is that Anne Frank was essentially isolated from the rest of the world while she was in hiding. Klemperer and his wife are out living in society during this period (although his freedoms are gradually constricted). He and Eva attempt to live “normal” lives while all of the lunacy goes on around them. He has access to news accounts and speeches of the Nazis as well as the reaction of both Aryans and Jews to what is happening. He is able to not only express his own feeling and reactions, but he also pays a lot of attention to the mood of others in Germany as all of this is happening. It’s like having a recorder playing back the events and the resulting effects.
The attempts a living a normal life while these events are happening are notable. Despite losing his job as a professor of literature at one of the state schools of higher education and being severly constrained financially, he manages to build a house, learn to drive, buy a car, go on trips, visit relatives and friends, go out to eat, etc. (at least until his house is appropriated in 1939 because he is “non-Aryan.”) He continues to focus on the books he is writing, even after he is forced into confinement.
The book ends suddenly at the end of 1941. I have not investigated whether there is another volume that covers his diary from that point on. The preface of the book tells of his eventual fate so that is never in doubt, but I am curious as to what he experienced between 1941 and the end of the war. I am not sure, however, I will ever read that as I had such a difficult time wading through this volume. It was a tough read, but ultimately I am glad I read it. Heaven help us if a bunch of nut cases ever manage to take over power here!