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The Lesser Evil: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1945-59 Paperback – September 1, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This third and final volume of the diaries of Klemperer, a German-Jewish professor of philology who survived the Nazis because his wife was Christian, lacks the inherent drama of his life under the Nazis, related in the first two, highly acclaimed volumes, and many readers will be mystified by the political twists and turns of East German communism. Nonetheless, Klemperer was an acute observer of life's complexities, and the diary becomes quite a good read. In 1945, he is amazed that he has survived, but the conditions of life are still wrenching. He is suspicious of all the former acquaintances who shunned him in the Nazi years and now fawn over him. As a privileged academic in Communist East Germany, Klemperer attends endless, mind-numbing meetings, but also receives a number of appointments, a good salary and a cherished automobile. He publishes his most important work, LTI, a study of Nazi language. As someone who had suffered so acutely under the Nazis, he believes communism is "the lesser evil," yet he is anguished by the parallels between Nazism and communism. The diary is a poignant document about life under communism and the political choices that so many Europeans faced after WWII.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


The third and final volume of the diaries of Victor Klemperer, Dresden Jew and Holocaust survivor, whose 1933–45 diaries have already been hailed as one of the 20th century’s most important chronicles.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix (September 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753817942
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753817940
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,363 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard A. Preto-rodas on November 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
Victor Klemperer's The Lesser Evil completes his three volume diary as a Jewish college professor in Germany from 1933 to 1959. In this volume, he covers the years from the end of the Second World War until his final illness and to my mind provides the most rewarding literary experience. To be sure, his account of the tightening Nazi noose following Hitler's ascension to power and the horrors and restrictions of the war years as a Jew married to an "Aryan" woman have few equals in Holocaust literature. Only the fire bombing of Dresden on the eve of a scheduled deportation of his city's remaining handful of Jews and their spouses allowed him to survive. But the post-war years provide the fascinating portrait of a genteel intellectual dedicated to the rule of reason (a major scholarly pursuit as a Professor of Romance Languages and Literature involves his work on the French Enlightenment) trying to balance between the resurgent militarism and consumerism of the triumphant western powers and the repression of a socialist German Democratic Republic, the title's "lesser evil" where he chooses to live. Klemperer is keenly aware of his own inconsistencies as a secular humanist with a deep appreciation of traditional spiritual values, often describing his situation as one of falling between the two chairs of the East-West confrontation that became the Cold War. In 1951, the grieving widower remarries within a year, feeling both guilt and gratitude and humbled by two women more talented and generous than himself. Hardly heroic, he manages to seem admirable as he struggles to keep afloat despite terrible times and petty academic politics.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This diary by Victor Klemperer represents the good Professor's private thoughts of life as he saw it in East Germany during the post war years of 1945 through 1959. Having been lucky enough to survive WWII as a Jew living in Germany, one would think that life in post war Germany would be much easier. At the end of the war Klemperer and his wife Eva found themselves in the American occupation sector. Despite being Jewish and with his hometown of Dresden almost completely destroyed, he insists on returning and living in the Russian East German sector.
As described in the diary, we see how Russia deals with the reeducation and punishment of Nazi's and how surviving Jews are upgraded in German society. Klemperer tells us of his re-installment as a full Professor and becomes a published Author and man of letters. During this post war period Klemperer becomes involved in Communist politics and asserts that life in the GDR (East Germany) is the lesser evil of the two Germanys during this "Cold War" period. It is this ongoing inner argument of which German government is right that puts Klemperer in the so called position of "between two stools", which means he can't please all the people he associates with because he seeks one true and benevolent entity but neither one really suffices.
Along with Klemperer's inner political torture, he has to deal with the death of his first wife Eva and the marriage to his very young wife Hadwig. Klemperer mentions death all during his 15 years of diary entries much as he did during his war entries. His health as he says was always bad, much as during the Nazi regime. In retrospect bad health or not, Klemperer lived over 78 years.
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Format: Paperback
This third Klemperer diary is much less exciting than the previous two (unsurprising, as the Nazi years and the war are now over) and also much less comprehensive. The first diary covered nine years; the second three and a half; this one covers a little over thirteen years in about the same number of pages as the first two books. The editor marked omissions with ellipses, and I don't know if there was a single entry that didn't have at least one. Sometimes entire entries were eliminated and the editor summarized them in brackets. But, looking at what was left, I don't think I missed much.

After the armistice Victor Klemperer and his wife Eva experienced a remarkable, 180-degree turn of fortune. They got their house back. He was feted by everybody, as they were all anxious to demonstrate that THEY had not been Jew-hating Nazis, thank you very much (try Googling the Chad Mitchell Trio song "The I Was Not A Nazi Polka" to see what I mean). Wealth, fame and international travel, to as far away as China, followed as Klemperer's academic career rose from the grave and he became a minor celebrity within East Germany.

Yet from my reading of the diary I can't say Klemperer's postwar years were happy ones. He considered Communism the "lesser evil" to capitalism, but he was uneasy about the similarities he noticed between the Communist government and the Nazis. He witnessed the revival of anti-Semitism and the rise of Holocaust denial. He got embroiled in petty academic infighting while becoming convinced that his star was only on the ascendancy for lack of competitors within East Germany. Eva Klemperer died in 1951 and Victor remarried within a year to Hadwig, a former student who was twenty-five years to his seventy.
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