Cover image for I will bear witness : a diary of the Nazi years 1942-1945
I will bear witness : a diary of the Nazi years 1942-1945
Klemperer, Victor, 1881-1960.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 556 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Translation of: Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten: Tagbucher 1933-1945 von Victor Klemperer.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PC2064.K5 A312 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PC2064.K5 A312 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PC2064.K5 A312 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PC2064.K5 A312 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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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 Nazi persecution...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."  

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Klemperer's piling on the details of ordinary life, not just the registering of the great events of the war, is what helps convey the meaning of life in the Third Reich. His diary's two volumes constitute one of the few running accounts of Hitler's Germany from beginning to end and beyond. This admirable translation of the second volume sacrifices nearly half the German original, but much of value remains. As Klemperer's world gets smaller and smaller, hemmed in by incredibly petty regulations, surprise Gestapo searches, removals from one "Jew-house" to the next, forced labor, and growing hunger, his diary entries grow longer, richer, and more insightful. Eva Klemperer, an often bed-ridden depressive in volume 1 (1998), becomes a tower of strength who risks all by transporting the diary manuscript to a trusted friend. Klemperer is a remarkable observer. Remarkable, too, is how much--and how quickly--he knew of the mechanics of the unfolding Final Solution. As in the first volume, he records acts of courageous kindness as well as numbing mean-spiritedness from ordinary Germans. A cranky hypochondriac in the early years, the author grows constantly in stature, assuming at the end of his ordeal the heroism of endurance, a man who has borne witness for us all. All collections. ; University of Illinois at Chicago



The Lives of Victor Klemperer Escape At the beginning of February 1945, there were 198 registered Jews, including Victor Klemperer, left in the city and the district of Dresden. The remainder of the 1,265 who had been in the city in late 1941 had been deported to Riga, to Auschwitz, to Theresienstadt. Many were shot or gassed on arrival. Some had committed suicide on receiving notice of deportation. A handful survived. All the remaining Jews in Dresden had non-Jewish wives or husbands. This had placed them in a relatively privileged position but dependent on the courage and tenacity of their marriage partners. If the "Aryan" spouse died or divorced them, they would immediately be placed on the deportation list. The majority of such couples and families had been ghettoized, together with the less privileged Jews, in a dwindling number of "Jews' houses." On the morning of Tuesday, February 13, all Jews considered capable of physical labor were ordered to report for deportation early on Friday, February 16. The "mixed marriages" of Dresden were finally to be split up. Victor Klemperer regarded this as a death sentence for himself and the others. Then, "on the evening of February 13 the catastrophe overtook Dresden: the bombs fell, the houses collapsed, the phosphorus flowed, the burning beams crashed onto the heads of Aryans and non-Aryans alike, and Jew and Christian met death in the same firestorm; whoever of the bearers of the star was spared by this night was delivered, for in the general chaos he could escape the Gestapo." Victor Klemperer and the other Jews who survived the Allied raid and the subsequent firestorm had experienced a double miracle, had been doubly lucky. In the confusion following the destruction of the city, Victor Klemperer pulled off the yellow Jew's star, and he and his wife merged with the other inhabitants fleeing the city. It was easy enough for them to claim they had lost their papers. Nevertheless, afraid of being recognized and denounced, they went on the run across Germany for the next three months, until the village they had reached in southern Bavaria was occupied by American forces. Contradictions On the night of the Dresden firestorm, when Victor Klemperer escaped both the Allied bombs and the Gestapo, he was already sixty-three. He was born in 1881, the youngest child of Wilhelm Klemperer, rabbi in the little town of Landsberg on the Warthe (today the Polish town of Gorzow Wielkopolski), in the eastern part of the Prussian province of Brandenburg. Three brothers and four sisters survived into adulthood; the famous conductor Otto Klemperer was a cousin, but there was little contact between the two parts of the family. By the time Victor was nine, his father, after an unhappy interlude with the Orthodox congregation at Bromberg (today Bydgoszcz), had been appointed second preacher of the Berlin Reform Congregation. The whole family appears to have felt relieved at the change, and according to his autobiography, Victor immediately relished the freedom and excitement of the big city. 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 also successful, 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. Excerpted from A Diary of the Nazi Years 1942-1945 by Victor Klemperer All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
1942p. 1
1943p. 183
1944p. 283
1945p. 387
Notesp. 515
Chronologyp. 535
Indexp. 539