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

by Victor Klemperer
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Klemperer's Imagery and the Modern-Day Reader

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1473

Contemporary readers of Klemperer’s astonishing I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933–1941 are struck by the unexpected details the diarist notes from his daily life. Klemperer demonstrates how the influence of Nazism was pervasive and penetrated every facet of daily life. Further, he shows how the...

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Contemporary readers of Klemperer’s astonishing I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933–1941 are struck by the unexpected details the diarist notes from his daily life. Klemperer demonstrates how the influence of Nazism was pervasive and penetrated every facet of daily life. Further, he shows how the ever-present images of Hitler and the swastika affected the psyches of the citizens of Germany, having a profound influence on the ways they behaved and treated one another. Modern readers, knowledgeable about the horrors of the concentration camps and the inhumanity of the Holocaust, do not understand how such an unimaginable evil escalated.

Klemperer’s diary depicts those tiny steps with which Hitler’s regime took power and gradually evolved into what is perhaps the most infamous tyranny in history. Klemperer shows how Hitler’s officials were so adept at public relations that they were able to garner widespread support. The diary is thus extremely valuable to modern readers because Klemperer provides startling and memorable images of a Germany moving steadily toward the worse. Klemperer concentrates on two forms of Nazi imagery: ordinary objects and people’s behavior. Both are equally disturbing. While shopping,

Klemperer encounters everyday objects somehow transformed by the new regime. On March 22, 1933, Klemperer observes, ‘‘In a pharmacy toothpaste with a swastika.’’ Eight days later, he notes, ‘‘In a toy shop a children’s ball with the swastika.’’ Later, on October 30, 1934, Klemperer writes, ‘‘I received a magazine with a swastika on the cover: ‘The Care of the German Cat.’’’

Later, in October of 1939, Klemperer describes walking through a market where many of the retailers’ goods were replaced by pictures of Hitler. Klemperer certainly understood that toothpaste, toys, and cat magazines had nothing to with political events, but he also understood that they did have something to do with political strategy.

Similarly, when Klemperer tells about the Nazis’ attempts to create German names for the months of the year, he sees it as a ridiculous effort, but a potentially dangerous sign. The imprint of the swastika on so many ordinary things sends a clear message that the regime is everywhere and controls everything, and to be outside the regime is to be alone.

While on the surface, such ‘‘marketing’’ measures appear to be a simple means of getting in touch with the people, they are really intimidation. Such tactics were designed to lead to only one conclusion, which Klemperer labels the thought process of Nazism: ‘‘Hitler IS Germany.’’

The other type of imagery Klemperer provides is imagery of people’s reactions to the growing Nazi influence. In September of 1935, Klemperer describes signs being displayed by ordinary citizens who have fallen under the spell of Nazism. One sign reads, ‘‘Who buys from the Jew, is a traitor to the nation,’’ while another reads, ‘‘No Jews do we want, in our fair suburb Plauen.’’

The schools were a focal point for Nazi efforts. On March 22, 1933, Klemperer describes this disturbing scene:

Fraulein Wiechmann visited us. She tells how in her school in Meissin all are bowing down to the swastika, are trembling for their jobs, watching and distrusting one another. A young man with the swastika comes into the school on some official errand or other. A class of fourteen-year-olds immediately begins singing the Horst Wessel Song [a Nazi song].

The son of one of Klemperer’s friends communicates another school-related incident. The boy was a ‘‘passionate Nazi’’ until he began thinking for himself and became disillusioned with what he saw. Klemperer tells the boy’s story on September 27, 1934:

The leaders—fellow pupils—take more money from us for excursions than they spend. It is impossible to check, a couple of marks always goes into their pockets; I know how it’s done, I’ve been a leader myself. . . . One fellow, who was really poor, a leader for some time, is now riding a motorcycle . . .— ‘Don’t the others notice too.’—‘They’re so stupid,’ and then: ‘No one dares say anything or talk to the others. Everyone is afraid of everyone else!’

This example of boyhood abuse of power demonstrates how receptive young minds were to the Nazis. They readily accepted positions of power and had no problem taking advantage of one another. Teachers were not immune to Nazi influence, either. On October 19, 1935, Klemperer explains that many teachers provide ‘‘character sketches’’ of their students. Commenting on a Jewish student, one teacher wrote that he ‘‘shows all the characteristics of his race.’’ These sketches were designed to help assess the suitability of very small children for the ‘‘national community.’’

Another type of behavior seemed innocent enough but had harsh consequences. Modern readers can readily identify with the practice of making jokes about current events. Apparently, the same was true in Nazi Germany, as Klemperer explains on January 13, 1934. He writes that jokes about conversations in heaven are very popular, and that the best one at the time involves Hitler asking Moses, ‘‘But you can tell me in confidence, Herr Moses. Is it not true that you set the bush on fire yourself?’’

Klemperer adds, ‘‘It was for such remarks that Dr. Bergsträsser, an assistant in the mechanical engineering department—an Aryan, by the way— was sentenced to ten months in prison by the special court.’’

Klemperer not only shows the reader how people behaved, he offers some explanation as to why. He writes with great disgust about the manipulation of the media. First, the Nazis banned publications that were not in their favor. Securing ‘‘forbidden’’ newspapers was a serious crime, as Klemperer notes when a friend of his smuggles newspaper clippings with him back from Bohemia.

Second, the National Socialists saturated the newspapers and radio broadcasts with pro-Nazi propaganda, even going so far as to cast news in a more favorable light. They made light of defeats and exaggerated their victories. The effect was that Germans, like Klemperer, began to feel that the Nazi regime would last a very long time.

This ‘‘whitewashing’’ extended to lesser incidents, too. On May 15, 1933, Klemperer writes about a Communist who came under scrutiny by the Nazis:

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.’’

Klemperer discusses another Nazi control tactic: preaching against the individual and for the group. By encouraging people to act as a group, the Nazis positioned themselves as the leaders of the groups. In addition, they reduced a lot of dangerous independent thinking that would create resistance to their ideologies and policies.

They reduced the importance of the individual and exalted the importance of the whole, and in so doing made their followers more compliant. To the true followers, nothing was as important (not even themselves) as the good of the regime.

The next step was to provide ongoing ‘‘education’’ for the public, especially for young people, about the Nazi ideology. On September 4, 1934, Klemperer reports, the Reich Educational Ministry declared, ‘‘A total science of people and state based on the National Socialist idea is at the heart of the non-denominational school.’’ In other words, the Nazis planned to perpetuate themselves by recruiting and instructing school-aged children attending public institutions.

Readers may notice that most of the examples of Nazi imagery occur toward the beginning of the diary. This is so because the early diary depicts the early years of Nazism, when the signs of the times were subtler and seemingly harmless. A toothpaste box and a child’s ball are not on the same scale as the gas chambers at Auschwitz, but by providing these early images of Hitler’s grip, Klemperer shows how one escalated to the other. He does modern readers a great service by demystifying the harrowing omnipotence of Hitler, and somehow reminds them that the German people were, after all, people subject to the same influences as anyone else.

Does this mean that Klemperer’s diary is a warning not to let the past be repeated? Not necessarily, but it is a tool for understanding how such a dark chapter in world history methodically evolved. Although his diary was never intended for publication, Klemperer’s inclusion of these striking images makes Nazi Germany more tangible for readers who otherwise have no context for knowing what it was like.

Source: Jennifer Bussey, Critical Essay on I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933–1941, in Nonfiction Classics for Students, The Gale Group, 2002. Bussey holds a master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a bachelor’s degree in English Literature. She is an independent writer specializing in literature.

A Season in Hell

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3674

The closer we get to the millennium, the clearer it becomes that the Holocaust is the defining event of our century. The unspeakable suffering the German nation under Hitler inflicted on the Jews has become the model we refer to when we speak of man’s inhumanity to man. We still suffer its aftershocks. It called into question our trust in ‘‘civilization’’ and created a disquietude between Germans and Jews that may take another hundred years to dispel. It is hardly surprising, then, that the Holocaust brought forth a vast outpouring of literature. The victims often clung to hope with a vow to ‘‘tell the world what went on here.’’ But when liberation arrived at long last, an odd thing happened. Although the discovery of the death camps was greeted with shock and incredulity, it soon became clear that the world didn’t really care to keep hearing about them. The end of the war brought joy and relief to the victors, a bad conscience and the wish to forget to the vanquished. Both wanted to return home and tend their own gardens. Only the survivors had nowhere to go; they became a nuisance, emotionally crippled reminders of a chapter in human history that left all who lived through that time feeling guilty.

Many years passed before we heard survivors’ voices calling to us. Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl appeared; the words of Elie Wiesel; the scholarly researches by Lucy Davidowicz and Hannah Arendt; Paul Celan’s poetry; Primo Levi’s stories; Ida Fink’s and Aharon Appelfeld’s novels. And countless memoirs, oral histories of ordinary people. Whenever the flood of material—not all of it literature—seemed to crest, another wave came along and swept yet more scraps upon the shore. The need arose to secure Holocaust memories in a safe place—hence the creation of the Holocaust Museum. Such an official ingathering would guarantee that the important original materials had been unearthed, classified, analyzed and computerized. What remained was to sift through it carefully, write commentaries, interpretations and theses.

But closure is hard to come by.

In autumn 1995, fifty years after the end of the war, the Aufbau Verlag, a publishing house in what had been the German Democratic Republic, brought out a 1,600-page diary, written between 1933 and 1945 by a professor of Romance languages named Victor Klemperer. It is a day-by-day account of life in Dresden, in the heart of Nazi Germany, by a baptized Jew who managed not only to survive but to outlive the Third Reich. Its German title, Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten (I Want to Bear Witness to the Very End), says it all. Never has a victim observed his victimization with greater insight. Never has a victim described the apparatus of state-inflicted persecution with greater fidelity. Never has the isolation of living in a world that wishes one’s people dead been rendered with greater pathos. Every act of cruelty as well as every gesture of kindness is scrupulously recorded.

Among the watchful victims of the Holocaust, Victor Klemperer stands alone. Whereas Anne Frank’s Diary was used for sentimental purposes— serving as a shrine that welcomes tearful pilgrims and the hope of redemption—Klemperer’s work is so utterly unsentimental, so unsparing in its shocking detail, that it allows no tears but breaks our hearts instead.

The massive two-volume edition had become a bestseller in Germany by the time I arrived to spend the winter of 1995–96 in Frankfurt am Main, where I was born. I bought the diaries and began reading them immediately, propped in my bed, night after night, in a furnished studio at the university’s guest house. Achingly spellbound, reading till 2 or 3 in the morning, it still took me almost three months to finish them. (That I was reading them in the land from which my family was exiled when I was 8 years old seemed a bitter, ironic coda.)

This fastidiously factual record, filled with touchingly honest familial details, trivial jealousies, petty quarrels, reports on illnesses, real and imagined, also contains sharp political insights, academic deliberations and vivid descriptions of the author’s ever-worsening ordeal. Nothing I had read before made the years of Nazi terror so real.

I began, as it were, to walk in the author’s footsteps. I watched his world shrink, month by month, year by year, until what once had been existed only in his memory. The restrictions imposed on the Jews were so bizarre that one might have thought they had sprung from Kafka’s fevered imagination. Jews were forbidden to use the telephone, keep pets, go to the movies, subscribe to newspapers, use the library, buy flowers, smoke. They couldn’t own typewriters or furs, go for a boat ride down the Elbe, visit a park or be seen on the streets at certain hours.

It wasn’t hard to place myself into that world. I knew the landscape well, I had loved it once. I’d come back to search it for traces of my past and found that only the pictures in the museums still spoke to me of bygone days. When the Jews disappeared the beauty of the landscape was diminished, the shapes of the cities changed, the music stopped. No wonder that—except in the homes of friends—I can find no comfort there. Melancholy fills my heart.

No, not melancholy; the word I want is Wehmut, or ‘‘pain of the spirit.’’

Victor Klemperer (1881–1960) was born in the small town of Landsberg-on-the-Warthe, in the eastern part of the state of Brandenburg. He was the youngest of eight children of a rabbi. When he was 9, the family moved to Berlin because Rabbi Wilhelm Klemperer received a call to the pulpit of the Reformed Synagogue. The move was greeted with relief by the entire family, not only because life in the German capital was more exciting than life in the provinces but because the congregation did not ask the family to observe strictly orthodox ritual practices.

Growing up in the shadow of three older, successful brothers gave Victor little chance to gain self-confidence. (He was, however, an obsessive diarist from the age of 17.) He quit his studies early, but returned to them sporadically. He found it hard to settle on any one discipline until he was drawn to eighteenth-century French literature and the Enlightenment. He graduated, married in 1906 and sought employment in Berlin as a journalist. He seems to have worked very hard and gained a modicum of success. (The diaries clearly show his competitive streak.) In 1914 he completed his doctorate and found a teaching job—which he left to join the army one year later. (Since he served at the front, he was allowed moments of reprieve during Hitler’s reign. But this alone could not have saved him.)

Those youthful years carry the seeds of many of the resentments Klemperer addresses in his journal. He cannot shake his sense of inferiority vis-àvis his brothers, who helped him out financially now and then and considered him a dilettante. They also disapproved of his marriage to Eva Schlemmer, a pianist and musicologist they thought socially inferior. That she wasn’t Jewish obviously didn’t matter; they no longer thought of themselves as Jews either. By the time World War I began, all of Rabbi Klemperer’s sons had converted in order to advance their careers.

In 1920 Victor received a chair in Romance languages and literature at the Technical University in Dresden. As the diaries begin, in January 1933, he and his wife have just bought a piece of land in Dölzschen, a suburb in the hills above Dresden, and are planning to build a small house. Domestic matters make up a good portion of the text in the first years under Nazi rule and provide us a wonderful, novelistic sense of who Victor and Eva Klemperer—Mr. and Mrs. K.—are. We find out that they have two cats, that they both suffer from depression, that they love the movies and that Eva is a passionate gardener. We learn that the author worries about money, and that his wife is not a devoted Hausfrau. We meet their friends and hear the gossip about them. We are told that he likes to read to her. We know whether it’s raining outside or the sun is shining, and are privy to his thoughts concerning one or another work in progress. Above all, we are kept abreast of political developments.

The emerging scene envelops us slowly. Each day adds more homey details, but from the very beginning the political situation provides an ominous, though relatively distant, accompaniment. The National Socialists are in power, Hitler has been made Chancellor, the terror has begun. It mounts swiftly, though it hasn’t yet reached the middleclass enclaves of Dresden. (On March 22, 1933, K. reports that Blumenfeld’s maid has quit, saying she’s found a permanent job: ‘‘The professor will soon no doubt not be in a position to keep a maid much anymore.’’ ) But there is still time for K. to learn to drive, to buy a used car so he can take Eva for drives in the country, where they can briefly forget the endless bureaucratic chicanery: harassment by the Nazi mayor, the loss of his job (in 1935). As more and more of their friends and acquaintances emigrate, their isolation increases.

In the years ahead, the political drumbeat will grow louder, demand more and more of the diarist’s attention, until it is finally all that matters. It is death at the door, hunger in the belly, fear in the heart. The greatness of the diaries lies in the way they portray the inexorable push of history against the life of one man and his wife. The machinery of the entire German state is harnessed to ‘‘cleanse’’ the nation of its Jews. I know of no other text that describes the relentless course of this demented idea—which will play itself out on every inch of land conquered by the Wehrmacht—with equal intelligence and humanity. Most Holocaust-memoirs are—by their very nature—limited in vision. They report what can be seen from behind barbed wire, amid the cries of the dying, or what takes place in the sealed ghetto. Great historians may write brilliantly, great novelists movingly, but the great diarist brings you directly into the mind and the belly of his society.

Klemperer was a scholar as well as an acute observer. A photo taken of him, standing in front of his house with Eva, shows a smallish, balding man in a dark three-piece suit, with large ears and sagging shoulders, who stands almost shyly behind his wife. His demeanor is professorial; it strikes the viewer as, well, typically Jewish. Eva is the more conspicuous of the two, in her white summer dress, thick-rimmed glasses, a turban and pearls, holding a cigarette in one hand. She is not a pretty woman. What is evident in the photo is their attachment— they are a couple bound by love. It is a love, I suspect, common to many childless couples.

It was Eva Klemperer who—literally—saved her husband’s life. Jews married to gentiles were spared almost to the end, an odd kind of exemption, considering that the Nazis thought of such marriages as Rassenschande (miscegenation), which turned the gentile partner into a pariah or, if she was a woman, a whore, and threatened the German Volk with the deadly virus of racial impurity.

It was Eva too—depressed, suffering from migraines—who went where he could not go, did what he could no longer do. She stood in line for the meager rations at the grocery store and, above all, she traveled into the countryside every couple of weeks, carrying the diaries to a friend’s house, where they were safely stored in a trunk. Had they been found, the Gestapo would unhesitatingly have murdered anyone connected to them, however slight that contact might have been. Among the themes winding their way through the diaries, the most compelling is what Klemperer calls LTI, or lingua tertii imperii, the language of the Third Reich.

LTI, published in book form in 1947, is a brilliant study of the way the Nazis distorted and deformed the German language to serve their needs. The party’s propaganda apparatus was quick to understand how to utilize the power of radio and talking pictures to manipulate the masses. Once the opposition had been brutally strangled and every independent news source silenced, the government could broadcast its version of the day’s events and its hateful diatribes against the Jews to millions without fear of contradiction. The screaming voices of Hitler, Göbbels et al. were heard not only in the kitchen and living room of every German home but in every public place. It was an intrusion no one could escape.

LTI served as the voice of propaganda, but its twisted vocabulary also defined the government’s anti-intellectual, anti-humanist Weltanschauung. It perfected the deceitful habit of using euphemisms to hide the true nature of a thing. Propaganda and brute terror, hand in hand, sent an entire nation plunging into barbarism.

Klemperer called his work on the diaries his ‘‘balancing pole.’’ It kept him from falling into the abyss. At age 60 and ailing, he was sent to work in a factory. In winter’s freezing weather he had to go out and shovel snow. And still he wrote, passionately and rigorously. As his situation worsened, his entries grew longer. He wanted to keep the German language, the language of Goethe and Lessing, Schiller and Heine, alive. It—more than a sprinkle of baptismal water—was what bound him to Germany and made him feel that he, and not the brutish brownshirts, was representative of the true Germans.

K. introduced LTI by quoting Franz Rosenzweig’s dictum Sprache ist mehr als Blut (Language means more than blood). In his own diaries he wrote, ‘‘Der Geist entscheidet, nicht das Blut’’ (the spirit, not blood, is decisive). These assertions defied the mythology of a nation that had, ever since Bismarck coined the phrase ‘‘blood and iron,’’ believed fervently in the mystical qualities of the fluid that courses through our veins. Small wonder that German Jews disputed such dogma. In the century and a half before Auschwitz, it was an article of faith for the vast majority of these German Jews that something called the German-Jewish symbiosis existed. Despite an occasional anti-Semitic incident, wasn’t there an unshakable bond between the two nations, and hadn’t it engendered a resplendent Jewish renaissance? And wasn’t that bond grounded in language? (Didn’t the German Jews disparage Yiddish precisely because they— too!—thought it a bastardization of German?) Paul Celan, who wrote, ‘‘Der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland’’ (Death is a master from Germany), knew the allurement of the ‘‘pure’’ German spoken by his mother in the polyglot city of Czernowitz. He continued to write his agonized, intensely lyrical poems in German, even ‘‘after Auschwitz.’’

Victor Klemperer felt himself to be German to the marrow of his bones. He firmly believed he could shed his Jewishness more quickly than his Germanness. He shared the fruits of German Kultur; the German Geist was alive in him. This is why, during the first few years of his long banishment, he so desperately insisted that he embodied what was truly German.

One of the effects of the lingua tertii imperii was to sever the connective tissue of language between the Third Reich and its still-trusting Jews. One of the terrible effects of exile—especially for those who live by the word—is to be rendered mute by loss of the mother tongue.

K.’s deep commitment to the French Enlightenment and Revolution was a reflection of the thesis that both had influenced the great German poets and thinkers in the age of Goethe. They fell into bad repute only in a reactionary Germany that came to reject (in the name of Rousseau and Romanticism, K. would argue) the clarity of the spirit for the murk of emotion, mysticism, blood. By 1871 France had become the enemy; after the defeat of 1918 she was the archenemy. K. never fully understood that it was academic suicide, in that time, to champion Voltaire and the philosophes and to find any redeeming value in the concept of liberté, egalité, fraternité.

It was the very problem of language that kept Klemperer from trying to leave Germany, as others in his family (including his famous cousin Otto) had done. He cannot imagine immigrating to France (to teach the French about their own literature?). Palestine repels him. He makes abundantly clear how hostile he is to Zionism, voicing outrage at the displacement of the indigenous Arab population and comparing the Zionists’ goal of ‘‘returning the Jews to the land’’ to the ‘‘blood and soil’’ philosophy of the Nazis. (In 1998 some of us might think him prescient.)

The prospect of going to America (despite the movies) seems equally hopeless to K. He fears he is too old to learn English and that his work, the one safe harbor in a world gone insane, will crumble. He was probably right. There were some German Jews who were willing to face death (most likely as suicides the night before they were called to report for deportation) sooner than life in a faraway country. The poet Gertrud Kolmar was such a one. Stefan Zweig fled to South America, only to kill himself there. K. decides to bear witness to the bitter end.

In May 1940 the final degradations commence. The Klemperers are forced to move from their home into a ‘‘Jewish’’ house in Dresden. Beginning on September 19, 1941, all Jews are required to wear the yellow star. This is a moment of the deepest humiliation for Klemperer. His own words, as they appear in the German edition, make this—and many other subtle points—very clear. The much-edited English edition does not. Perhaps this is the moment to voice my disappointment at the way Random House has handled this project. First of all, it has been three years since the German publication. This might be forgiven if it were the complete edition we held in our hands. It is not. It is volume one of two. This one ends on December 31, 1941. The second (which Random House plans to publish next August) covers the period from January 1, 1942, until June 10, 1945, when the author and his wife return to their home in Dölzschen.

K. writes, ‘‘Am späteren Nachmittag stiegen wir nach Dölzschen hinauf’’ (Later that same afternoon we climbed the hill to Dölzschen). This is the last sentence of the diaries as published in Germany. It is profoundly moving in its brevity because it carries the fullness of the unbearable, unbelievable joy that has come to them at last. The twelve bitter years of exile are over.

The two volumes cannot be split asunder like this: Their literary life lies embedded in their seamless totality. Just think—the first eight years of the Third Reich take up volume one, the last three and a half years volume two. This means that an incredible amount of material is crammed into these last, worst years of the Nazi period. Forget about the cuts; they leave out a great deal but might be acceptable if we had the entire narrative before us. In the second volume, the situation for the Jews grows more perilous by the day; K.’s entries become longer and follow one another more closely. At the same time, news of German reverses on the Eastern front has filtered in, and there are moments of hope. One of the few remaining spots where Jewish men can gather and talk freely is the cemetery— the earth of new graves smells fresh, the thick greenery surrounds them with country peace. K.’s writing becomes richer, flows more smoothly and with greater urgency and deeper emotion. K. has decided the diary will be his legacy of heroism.

The description of the final four months of the war takes up 173 mesmerizing pages of the German edition. On February 23, 1945, Klemperer is called to the office of the head of the Jewish community and given some evacuation notices to pass around. His own is not among them, but he feels certain that the end for him is coming. He is mute with horror, but continues to take note of everything around him, so he can record it when he returns home. That very night British planes rain fire on Dresden and reduce most of the city to ashes. The Klemperers are separated but both survive, and when the morning dawns and they see the devastation around them, they realize that they are free: FREE AT LAST! Eva cuts off K.’s detested star and the two of them join the stream of refugees headed south toward Bavaria and the approaching US Army. All this, of course, is missing in this edition, although its editor and translator, Martin Chalmers, briefly refers to it in his preface.

Klemperer and his wife returned to Dresden after the war, which meant living in the Soviet zone and, later, in the GDR. K., who had been a bourgeois liberal and anti-Communist before the war, joined the Communist Party. Given his experience under the Nazis, his alienation from the society he’d known before Hitler and his preference for ‘‘simple’’ working-class people, this was hardly surprising. (German conservatives blame him for this.) He lived a full and productive life in East Germany; Eva died in 1951 and he survived her by nine years, perhaps never able to escape the feeling of February 22–24, 1945, when he noted (in my rendition from the German): ‘‘Whenever I looked back at the heap of cinders that had been the city, I had, and still have, the atavistic emotion: Yahwe! It was there, in that place in Dresden, where they burned down the synagogue.’’

Source: Silvia Tennenbaum, ‘‘A Season in Hell,’’ in Nation, Vol. 267, No. 16, November 16, 1998, pp. 12–19.

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