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

by Victor Klemperer

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1613

Berger Berger is an aryan shopkeeper who is chosen as the Klemperers’ tenant when they are forced to leave their house and live in the Jewish ghetto. He is sorry that they are getting such a bad deal, but is glad for himself. Sympathetic to the mistreated couple, he is friendly and brings them honey, which the Nazis had forbidden Jews to have.

Harry Dember A friend of the Klemperers, Dember is a physicist who is very anxious. He characterizes the Jews as hoping for deliverance from an outside force, such as an invasion or German defeat. Dember is bitter and pessimistic and eventually finds work with the University of Constantinople in Turkey.

Eva Klemperer Eva is Klemperer’s Aryan wife. Although many Aryan spouses give in to public and political pressure to leave their Jewish spouses, Eva remains loyal and dedicated to her husband throughout the trying years of the war. She is a concert pianist whose physical ailments and emotional depression prevent her from playing music very often. The only thing that seems to keep her going is the cottage they are trying to build in Dölzschen. She is an avid gardener who thrives on working on the land while they await the money needed to build the house itself.

Throughout the book, Eva suffers from a variety of ailments, ranging from serious dental problems to swollen ankles. Klemperer also describes her frequent anxiety attacks and bouts of hysteria. At the beginning of the book, she still manages to find the energy and strength to work on the landscaping for the house. Klemperer worries about his wife but sees that this is the only activity that brings her any hope or joy, so he allows her to continue working hard. Eva is a woman obsessed with the house, and when Klemperer fears for their financial future, he keeps spending money on the house only for Eva’s sake. When she returns home, however, she has no strength for housework, so she lets her husband perform domestic chores.

Georg Klemperer Klemperer’s older brother, Georg, is a successful doctor who has left Germany and is living elsewhere in Europe. His sons live in the United States, and he tells Klemperer that if the situation in Europe worsens, he will go there, too. In 1935, he does so, but he is disappointed that his age prevents him from acquiring the type of position he had expected. He begins working on his memoirs.

At key times, Georg lends Klemperer muchneeded money, but he does not understand the resolute patriotism that keeps him in Germany. Georg tries to convince Klemperer to leave Germany and start a new life where it is safe, but Klemperer dismisses his brother’s advice because he feels misunderstood.

Victor Klemperer Klemperer is the diarist whose writings make up the entire text. His father is a rabbi in a Reform synagogue, so Klemperer and his siblings are accustomed to very liberal religious practices. Klemperer, like all three of his brothers, converts to Lutheranism in adulthood, a decision that is supported by their father. Still, in Nazi Germany, anyone who has one Jewish grandparent is regarded as Jewish, so Klemperer is subject to persecution. He is spared the deadly fate of the concentration camps, however, by virtue of his marriage to an Aryan woman, Eva, and his service in the German army during World War I.

As the diary opens, Klemperer is a professor at the Dresden Technical University. He loves lecturing and interacting in the academic community but soon realizes that because students are discouraged from taking his courses (Nazi policies limit...

(This entire section contains 1613 words.)

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his effectiveness; for example, he is not allowed to administer tests), he will be forced to retire. Klemperer and Eva have recently purchased a small plot of land in a town just outside Dresden, and they are planning to build a cottage. The Klemperers enjoy an active social life in the beginning, but as their friends gradually leave the country, they come to rely more on each other for meaningful interaction. Klemperer is an avid reader and writer who enjoys reading aloud to Eva, and the two often engage in intellectual discussion. During the course of the diary, Klemperer discusses two major works he is writing. One is an academic survey of eighteenth- century French literature, and the other is a study of the Third Reich’s use of language. The latter would become a highly respected study and is still read by historians and language specialists today.

Klemperer expresses his fear of death although his expressions of this fear have a casual, matter-ofcourse tone. He only expects to live a few more years, an expectation that affects his plans for new projects. When he is particularly disheartened, he often reminds himself that Eva needs him, a thought that motivates him to keep trying to find money, to keep working around the house, and in general to keep trying to improve their situation. He also suffers from a number of ailments, and he is frequently depressed as a result of the disastrous circumstances in which he finds himself.

Despite his difficult lot in life, Klemperer maintains a detailed journal (at great personal risk) in which he writes his thoughts, feelings, and observations. His careful records of the day-to-day struggles of a man in his precarious position give his diary a great deal of historical weight. In addition, the diary fulfills Klemperer’s dream of writing his memoirs for publication, an ambition he felt he never accomplished.

Johannes Köhler Johannes Köhler is an Aryan man who, along with his wife, maintains a very close friendship with the Klemperers. He teaches history and religion and feels tremendous weight on his conscience because of the behavior of government officials. He considers teaching another course less relevant to current events, such as medicine or business. Klemperer refers to Köhler and his wife as the ‘‘respectable’’ Köhlers because they are married; in contrast, they have another friend, named Annemarie Köhler, who lives with a man, and so Klemperer jokingly calls them the ‘‘unrespectable’’ Köhlers. Klemperer admires Johannes Köhler and his wife because, although they come from a different background than the Klemperers, they deeply despise Hitler’s regime.

Auguste Lazar Auguste ‘‘Gusti’’ Lazar is a longtime friend of the Klemperers. She is an author of books for children and young adults. In the dairy, Klemperer refers to her by her married name, Wieghardt. She is optimistic and believes that the Nazi regime will not last. In Klemperer’s first entry of 1935, he writes that she expressed her opinion that the regime will not last the year. She later realizes that the regime will last much longer, so she goes into exile in England in 1939, only to return to Dresden in 1949.

Frau Lehmann Frau Lehmann is the Klemperers’ maid, who is eventually forced to stop working for the Klemperers because they are categorized as a Jewish household. Her affection for the couple, however, leads her to visit them occasionally in the evenings.

Lissy Meyerhof Lissy Meyerhof is a friend of the Klemperers who manages to keep her position as a social worker because of her service as a nurse during World War I. She is industrious and optimistic. After the Klemperers are sent to the Jews’ House, she occasionally sends them packages containing such items as socks, coffee, and tea.

Präatorius Präatorius is the builder contracted by the Klemperers to build their house. While he waits for them to come up with the money needed to begin work, he stays abreast of their financial affairs. Once building begins, he is fair and negotiates with them when unexpected expenses arise.

Sandel Sandel is a Polish Jew who cheats Klemperer out of 240 marks and refuses to pay it back. He led Klemperer to believe that he could take the money and make more money with it, but instead he spent it while he was drunk. Sandel believes that Klemperer will not report the incident because Jews should protect each other. Klemperer, on the other hand, feels that not reporting it will make his friends think he lacks integrity for protecting a Jew. Reluctantly, he reports it to the police, and even though Sandel admits his wrongdoing, the police tell Klemperer that they can do nothing to recover his lost money. When Sandel tells the police that he was with Nazi officials when he spent the money, the entire matter is dropped. Klemperer is secretly relieved to have the matter behind him.

Jule Sebba Jule Sebba is a friend of the Klemperers who makes plans to move his family to Israel. He is a lawyer and teacher in Germany, but he plans to open a candle-making business after he moves. Once he arrives in Israel, however, his original business plan fails and he makes a meager living giving cello lessons and performing at music concerts. Before he leaves, he explains to Klemperer that the reason he must go is that the Nazi regime is making life for the Jews bad now, but the situation will only escalate into ‘‘unimaginable and bloody chaos.’’ He adds that after the regime finally falls, there will be nothing left because all other institutions and structures have been destroyed.

Johannes Thieme Johannes Thieme is a young man who lived with the Klemperers for a number of years beginning in 1920. He was like a foster son to them and called them mother and father. When he visits the Klemperers in 1933, he declares his support of the new regime. This disgusts Klemperer, who sees Thieme as a conformist with bad judgment, and he ends the relationship.




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