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

by Victor Klemperer
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1322

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....

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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, as the year progresses, his money problems prevent him from driving very often.

Meanwhile, Klemperer makes slow progress on his writing projects. In October, he encounters an obstacle when he is told at the library that Jews are no longer allowed in the reading room. Instead, he will have to take with him whatever books he needs.

To Klemperer’s surprise, there are a few Germans who go out of their way to be kind to him because they are sympathetic to the plight of the Jews.

Chapter Five: ‘‘1937’’
Klemperer is distraught at the news of the deaths (by illness and suicide) of some of his friends. To add to Klemperer’s hopelessness, he becomes even more pessimistic about the political situation in Germany. He fears that Hitler will remain in power for a very long time.

Klemperer makes progress on his French literature book and his language study. While both he and Eva suffer from repeated bouts of illness, he also begins to experience harassment, as when an offi- cial checks his garden for weeds and forces him to pay a hefty fine.

Chapter Six: ‘‘1938’’
Klemperer’s hopelessness about the reign of the Third Reich becomes more and more pronounced, and he feels certain he will not live to see a new order. To make matters worse, anti-Semitism mounts, and Jews are barred from certain occupations.

Policemen visit Klemperer, asking if he has any weapons. When he answers that he probably has his saber and bayonet from World War I, they search the house until they find the saber, though not the bayonet. Klemperer is taken into custody, not formally charged with anything, and released a few hours later.

Chapter Seven: ‘‘1939’’
The Klemperers experience severe depression and ongoing health problems. Klemperer progresses with his work on the literature book, but it is slow. His plans to write a study of the language of the Third Reich are progressing, and he notes his observations on the topic.

Rations and restrictions on purchases make it difficult for Klemperer to secure all of the goods he and Eva need. Although shopkeepers claim there are shortages, Klemperer suspects otherwise.

Someone tries to assassinate Hitler by setting off a bomb. Because the perpetrator is a Jewish man, Klemperer expects the worse for himself and waits for the police to come get him, but they do not.

Chapter Eight: ‘‘1940’’
The Klemperers receive terrible news that they must surrender their house and allow someone to rent or buy it. Because of Klemperer’s Jewish status, he and his wife are forced to live in a Jewish ghetto called the Jews’ House. They find a tenant, Berger, whom they like, and make the deal they are ordered to make.

The Klemperers find the Jews’ House cramped, chaotic, and stark, but they try to make the best of it. While not particularly fond of many of the other people living there, they remain friendly for the sake of solidarity. Klemperer notes that the one good thing that has come from moving to the Jews’ House is that Eva has learned to enjoy walking again.

More restrictions are placed upon Jews; they are no longer allowed to enjoy public parks or lending libraries. They are also subject to a curfew of eight o’clock, after which they must remain in their ghetto apartments.

Chapter Nine: ‘‘1941’’
Klemperer inadvertently violates a blackout (leaving the window curtains open during a bombing raid) and is sentenced to eight days in prison. During his stay, he finds that time moves very slowly, and he feels that he is trapped in a dismal cage. Above him, he hears another prisoner pacing back and forth for hours at a time. Prisoners are not allowed to converse during outdoor exercise times, and every rule comes with a threat of punishment. When he is released, he feels such relief that he is actually happy for a few days.

The most humiliating blow comes when the Jews are instructed to wear identifying yellow stars. Klemperer dreads the day this policy goes into effect, and afterwards Eva does the shopping and other public chores. Klemperer’s sense of shame is profound, and he feels that this experience is worse than his prison stay. His only comfort is that the star identifies him to Germans who are sympathetic: He goes to the market and receives produce he would not otherwise be able to secure.

Klemperer writes that there are shocking and terrifying reports of Jews being transported to Poland. All he knows is that they must go with only the clothes on their backs and without any possessions. In world news, Japan declares war on the United States.

When the Nazis plan an inventory of all Jews’ household items, Eva must remove Klemperer’s diary from their apartment at once. They take it to a friend’s house where it will be much safer.

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