Victor Klemperer wrote his diaries during the twelve years of Hitler’s rule. The English version of I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933–1941 was published in New York by Random House in 1998 (with a second volume covering the years 1942–1945), but the diaries have an interesting history. After Klemperer’s death in 1960, his diaries were taken to the Dresden State Library. Walter Nowojski, a former student of Klemperer’s, found them and, recognizing their historical value, typed the handwritten diaries in German. Finally, a small Berlin publisher agreed in 1995 to publish the manuscripts in German as a single volume covering the years 1933 to 1945. Klemperer’s diary quickly became a bestseller despite its length (1,500 pages) and price (well over sixty dollars).
The diary is considered important as a detailed account of the spread of Nazism in Germany and the reception of Nazi ideals by the population. It represents the unusual perspective of a Jew throughout all twelve years of Nazi power. The diary’s unique contribution to the field of Holocaust literature is its step-by-step presentation of the systematic dehumanization and persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany.
Some readers focus on the fact that Klemperer knew Germans who were sympathetic to him as a Jew at a time when it was unpopular to be so. Others hold the diary up as evidence that the horrors of the Holocaust were widely known at the time, an issue that has been sharply debated over the years. Regardless of the reader’s or scholar’s interpretation of the diary, its important historical value is universally recognized.