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I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941 Hardcover – November 3, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Victor Klemperer (1881-1960), honored as a frontline veteran of World War I, was a distinguished professor at the University of Dresden. A scant few months later he was merely a Jew, protected from deportation to a death camp only by his marriage to an Aryan. He suffered every other indignity to which German Jews were subjected, from losing his job to having his driver's license revoked to being denied permission to own a pet, and all are recorded with bitter clarity in his diary entries, which cover the years 1933 to 1941. (A second volume continuing through 1945 will be published in English in 1999.) The German edition of this book caused a sensation when it was published in 1995, and it's easy to see why: the relentless, quotidian nature of Nazi racism comes through forcefully in Klemperer's litany of daily humiliations and insults, a painful chronicle of situations in which readers can readily imagine themselves. Like Anne Frank, but with a more adult understanding of political fanaticism and human weakness, he makes the abstract horror of genocidal persecution very intimate, very personal, and very real. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

In April 1935, Klemperer (1881-1960) was a Protestant professor of French literature at Dresden University and a front-line veteran of WWI. By early May, he was simply a Jew and, like other Jews, forcibly retired. His marriage to an Aryan gave him (precarious) protection, and by 1945, he was one of only 198 registered Jews left in Dresden. Through it all, Klemperer kept a diary (Vol. II, 1942-1945, is due out in 1999) that turns out to be one of the most important to come out of Nazi Germany. While his early entries are filled with work and health, as circumstances worsened his focus turns to the nuances of Nazism's degrading influence. Small acts of kindness and solidarity from Gentiles were surprisingly frequent, yet pervasive isolation and lack of courage left real resistance a fantasy for everyone but the Wends (Catholic Slav peasants) and the Communists (whom Klemperer would later join). Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this book is Klemperer's parallel record of the insidious progress of laws that stripped Jews of their rights and of the propaganda and censorship that stripped the Germans of their judgment. But through it all, Klemperer maintained his "commitment to Germanness," making his account more akin to the complexities recorded in Peter Gay's recent My German Question than Daniel Goldhagen's simplistic Hitler's Willing Executioners. The diaries weren't intended for publicationAthey are in part a m?lange of notes for a study of Nazi manipulation of language and jottings regarding quotidian concerns about Klemperer's teeth, the cat's health or the price of supplies. This catch-all quality adds veracity to Klemperer's shrewd understanding of Germany's nightmarish decline, however, evincing the kind of clarity that usually comes with hindsight. First serial to the New Yorker; audio rights to Random, all others to Aufbau Verlag.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 520 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (November 3, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0965089231
  • ISBN-13: 978-0965089234
  • ASIN: 0679456961
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.7 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #578,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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115 of 116 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
My review refers to the german original edition of the Klemperer diaries from 1933-1945. In the german edition, the diaries are not published in two parts. It must be hard for the english reader to stop 1941 and wait. Klemperer wrote more than 5000 typoscript pages of diary during the nazi period. The german original edition with many cutbacks has more than 1800 pages (1933-1945), the english translation about 500 (1933-1941), so I expect more cutbacks in the english version - most likely around Klemperers language studies about LTI-lingua tertii imperii, the language of the 3. Reich - more interesting for german native speakers. For the english reader, which had yet only read the diary until 1941 I will give the warning, that the 1942 diary is really the most depressing one.
The Klemperer diary is definitely the best book I ever read about the nazi-time. (second one: Hans Fallada, 1947: "Jeder stirbt für sich allein" (Everybody dies for himself), English title: ?)
As a German I grew up with an endless amount of information, literature, books, documentations, discussions and history school lessons about the 3. Reich, but the most refer only to long known facts and their problem is, that they are written with the look of the survivers, the next generation or the history view which sorts and interprets the facts with the knowledge of the ending. I believe, that nobody can understand the system, who has not read "first-hand" impressions. The Klemperer diary is, what I always was looking for: An uncommented inside view to the all day life in germany in that days and the evolution of the unthinkable. A first-hand information about the terrorism not in the concentration camps, but in "normal" life.
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65 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Barron Laycock HALL OF FAME on May 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The most disarming and appealing feature of this tome is its slow and ineluctable building of suspense and empathy as World War I veteran Klemperer steadily weaves the day to day details of his life in 1930s Germany into a portrait of a rogue state moving irresistably down the path to tyranny and terror. The reader is sucked into the vortex of what it is like to live under such circumstances, where an aging Jewish professor who has built a life of purpose and meaning based on scholarship, hard work, and the belief in the rationalism of the state begins to understand that it will all unravel around him. You begin to experience how difficult and incomprehensible it must be for him, and empathize and worry for his fate as the building storm clouds of violent fascism fill the skies of 1930s Germany. As the days and weeks pass into months and years under the growing tyranny of National Socialism, Klemperer, married to an Aryan woman, increasingly finds solace and relief from the growing insanity swirling around him by concentrating on his academic writing, which he continues against all odds. As he faces an arbitrary enforced early retirement from his professorial duties, he also begins to take more time to enjoy simple pleasures with his wife, Eva, as they revel in long nature walks, the perils and pleasures of driving a second-hand car, and in watching the cinema. His refusal to submit to the progressively more invective growth of lies, invectives, and accusations of the Nazi regime build into a quiet resolve to resist in the way he knows best, by maintaining an intelligent, insightful, and careful witness to the everyday horrors perpetrated with malice and cunning on the Jews as the scapegoat for all of Germany's post-WWI social and economic woes.Read more ›
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Patrick on June 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As an Irishman who lived in Germany for three years and really enjoyed getting my teeth into their rich and juicy language, I found the story of Viktor Klemperer's struggle to stay afloat in the 1930's as a Jew very familiar. There are many places in this world where people feel as he did, at least while the humiliations and restrictions were still not life-threatening, and that is why many would find such a diary interesting. Women in the Third Reich, too, could have written about being fired from respectable positions and sent back to "kirche, kuche und kindern". What makes the story very authentic are his very stereotypical views of women, or "little people" (workers, etc.), and his own gravitation towards fellow Jews. This makes him much more real - fussy, getting older, losing his courage and endurance, dealing with his wife Eva's illness, driven mad by doing "housemaid's work" which Eva, unemployed, cannot seem to do. The stove needs coal, and it's always dirty. They have a summer cottage in Doelschen, and they are trying to do the work themselves, getting there by expensive taxi, with Eva driven bonkers by the neighbors there around them so much further progressed in their cottage building. HE is perpetually strapped to pay his bills, has to give up his life insurance policy, but carries on with the extreme expense of running a used car, delighting in using the new 7.5-km autobahn near Dresden, a road for the Fuhrer! They do not give up the cottage or the car when he is suspended from the university. All the petty and not-so-petty sums which plague this older couple (toilet paper, for example, and cigarettes) are recounted in numerical detail. That is what makes the story so interesting, and so real.Read more ›
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