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I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941 Paperback – November 15, 1999
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"One of the great testimonies of our century. . . . Klemperer's ability to grasp moods and attitudes has a truly Dickensian quality." --Los Angeles Times
"What has been called one of the most remarkable documents to come out of the Second World War turns out to be one of the most compulsively readable books of the year." --The San Diego Union Tribune
"For the next generation of historians, Klemperer's diaries will be required reading." --Gordon Craig, The New York Review of Books
"To read his almost day-by-day account is a hypnotic experience; the whole, hard to put down, is a true murder mystery--from the perspective of the victim."--Peter Gay, The New York Times Book Review
From the Inside Flap
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 recordevents. "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.
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Top customer reviews
There are numerous, detailed reviews of the particulars, so I won't add to them, beyond saying: If you want to better understand the history of the period, and also approach an appreciation of human coping in such circumstances, I have not read a more compelling account and highly recommend Klemperer's diaries.
Everyone should read this absorbing, harrowing, sometimes nit-picky and on rare occasions petty (after all Klemperer is eminently human) but always astonishing account.
Hitler became Chancellor on 30 January 1933. By 7 April Victor Klemperer was motivated to write, “The pressure I am under is greater than in the war, and for the first time in my life I feel political hatred for a group (as I did not during the war), a deadly hatred. In the war I was subject to military law, but subject to law nevertheless; now I am at the mercy of an arbitrary power.”
On the 25th of April Victor comments, “The Prussian Minister of Education has ordered that school pupils who have had to repeat a year should, where possible, if they are members of the Hitler movement, move up after all.”
By the 15th of May Victor writes, “The garden of a Communist in Heidenau is dug up, there is supposed to be a machine-gun in it. He denies it, nothing is found; to squeeze a confession out of him, he is beaten to death. The corpse brought to the hospital. Boot marks on the stomach, fist-sized holes in the back, cotton wool stuffed into them. Official post mortem result: Cause of death dysentery, which frequently causes premature “death spots.”
Before this, I didn’t realize at a gut level that things got this crazy before Hindenburg died in 1934! "Mein Kampf" is a blueprint for tyranny and this book is an eyewitness to that tyranny—in a civilized Western nation no less!
Klemperer's work is a quality historical tool written with real anger for sure but without agenda.
So much of that period still haunts the world. We have mythologized history, censored and revised.
In the process, we have certified a version that has been legally approved and research has been criminalized.
Klemperer only saw what one person could see and wrote of what was in front of him. He is not an "end all," not an apology, not an explanation, but a place, perhaps, to begin.