Synopses & Reviews
The publication of Victor Klemperer's secret diaries brings to light one of the most extraordinary documents of the Nazi period. "In its cool, lucid style and power of observation," said The New York Times, "it is the best written, most evocative, most observant record of daily life in the Third Reich." I Will Bear Witness is a work of literature as well as a revelation of the day-by-day horror of the Nazi years.
A Dresden Jew, a veteran of World War I, a man of letters and historian of great sophistication, Klemperer recognized the danger of Hitler as early as 1933. His diaries, written in secrecy, provide a vivid account of everyday life in Hitler's Germany.
What makes this book so remarkable, aside from its literary distinction, is Klemperer's preoccupation with the thoughts and actions of ordinary Germans: Berger the greengrocer, who was given Klemperer's house ("anti-Hitlerist, but of course pleased at the good exchange"), the fishmonger, the baker, the much-visited dentist. All offer their thoughts and theories on the progress of the war: Will England hold out? Who listens to Goebbels? How much longer will it last?
This symphony of voices is ordered by the brilliant, grumbling Klemperer, struggling to complete his work on eighteenth-century France while documenting the ever- tightening Nazi grip. He loses first his professorship and then his car, his phone, his house, even his typewriter, and is forced to move into a Jews' House (the last step before the camps), put his cat to death (Jews may not own pets), and suffer countless other indignities.
Despite the danger his diaries would pose if discovered, Klemperer sees it as his duty to record events. "I continue to write," he notes in 1941 after a terrifying run-in with the police. "This is my heroics. I want to bear witness, precise witness, until the very end." When a neighbor remarks that, in his isolation, Klemperer will not be able to cover the main events of the war, he writes: "It's not the big things that are important, but the everyday life of tyranny, which may be forgotten. A thousand mosquito bites are worse than a blow on the head. I observe, I note, the mosquito bites."
This book covers the years from 1933 to 1941. Volume Two, from 1941 to 1945, will be published in 1999.
When the secret World War II diaries of Victor Klemperer, a distinguished historian at the University of Dresden, a German patriot, and a Jew, were published in Germany two years ago, they became a huge bestseller. "The acclaim is the result of Victor Klemperer's evocative literary gift, his power of observation", Amos Elon wrote in The New York Times Magazine. "No one had been so clear-sighted from die very first as he had been about the unmitigated horror of Nazism. Day in, day out, Klemperer comments on current affairs: on Hitler's speeches and the elimination of all opposition, on the racial laws, on the war's progress. There are vivid accounts of events he witnesses, conversations he overhears, and character studies of victims and victimizers, fanatics and opportunists of all sorts. All this, and the narrowing horizons of his own private world, produces a nightmarish picture of life within a society gone berserk; the inferno is an artful mosaic, made up of endless fragments of meanness".
Klemperer's diaries are a work of literature as well as a revelation -- the only one we have -- of the day-by-day horror of Nazi Germany.
About 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. His wife deposited them after his death 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.