Study Guide

I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941

by Victor Klemperer

I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941 Summary

Introduction

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.

I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941 Summary

Chapter One: ‘‘1933’’
In I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933–1941, Klemperer begins by writing of day-to-day cares and his efforts to make progress on building a small house on the plot of land he and his wife have purchased in Dolzschen, just outside Dresden. Although Klemperer finds the house to be worrisome, his wife is desperate for it, so he wants to see it built for her sake.

Klemperer and Eva suffer from a variety of aches and pains. Because of Eva’s declining health, Klemperer often does the domestic chores in addition to working as a lecturer at Dresden Technical University. He is a professor of Romance languages and literature, but the Third Reich’s influence threatens his position.

The Klemperers are social people, frequently entertaining guests and visiting friends’ homes. Hitler’s regime sends waves of fear into every corner of their lives, and they express their uncertainty about the future. Klemperer identifies himself strongly with Germany and is outraged at the rise of the current ‘‘un-German’’ regime. Even though he no longer adheres to the Jewish faith, the regime sees anyone who is one-quarter Jewish by descent to be a Jew, and the restrictions are already beginning.

Chapter Two: ‘‘1934’’
Because Klemperer fought at the front in World War I and because he is married to an Aryan (of Indo-European descent), he is protected from the fate of most other German Jews. He continues to worry about Eva, who is both sick and depressed. The only thing that energizes her is gardening on the land in Dolzschen.

In addition, Klemperer’s outlook is grim regarding his career, his health, and their financial situation. The house is expensive, and they have only begun landscaping and building the cellar. A much-needed break comes in July when a friend is able to loan them money for their house.

Gradually, the Klemperers’ friends begin to seek ways to leave Germany. This sickens Klemperer because he feels completely devoted to his country, especially as it suffers the shame of the Nazi regime.

Klemperer works slowly on his book about French literature and also begins a new study about the Third Reich’s use of language.

Chapter Three: ‘‘1935’’
Klemperer is officially dismissed by the university, which causes him great worry because ‘‘retirement’’ income is half what he has been making. He begins looking for positions in other countries but has no luck. Having no other choice, he writes to his brother and asks for a loan, which is granted.

When the restrictive Nuremberg Laws are enacted, further stripping Jews of their rights, more of the Klemperers’ friends move out of the country.

Klemperer enrolls in driving classes so that he will have better mobility, especially since Eva’s health leaves her too weak to walk.

Chapter Four: ‘‘1936’’
Klemperer passes his driving test and purchases an inexpensive car. Although he enjoys the freedom of a car, he finds that it creates a new set of worries. Eventually, he learns to relax and take pleasure in his and Eva’s drives. Unfortunately,...

(The entire section is 1322 words.)