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

by Victor Klemperer

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Why was Victor Klemperer so determined to write his book on France in I Will Bear Witness?

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At various points throughout the first volume of his diaries (I Will Bear Witness), Victor Klemperer refers to his desire to finish a book he has been writing titled Image of France.

On page 3, for instance, he mentions that work on the project has come “to a standstill” because of legal distractions. On page 4 he laments his lack of time to work on the project, but he also wonders about its value – whether it is even worth writing:

What difference does it make if I leave behind one book more or less! [sic]  Vanitas.

This comment suggests that Klemperer saw the book on France as a way of creating some kind of personal scholarly legacy – some permanent record of his own ideas, writing, and work.  Ironically, of course, he left behind something much more valuable: the diary itself, in which he so often laments being unable to finish the book on France.

On page 6, for example, he feels compelled to return to work on the book, which he now considers a “nightmare,” while on page 8 he notes that he is making only very slow progress on the project. By page 9 he notes that he now considers the project something that he works on “for myself” – apparently as a way of achieving personal consolation and satisfaction amidst all the other uncertainties of his life.

On page 11 he notes that he finds himself unable to work on the book. On page 12 he reports that part of the book is finished. On page 15 he notes that work has been slow and is now at another standstill. Further slow progress is reported on page 17, but now Klemperer mentions the ominous possibility that the book will not be published until after his death.

On page 20 he notes that a work titled “The New German Image of France” has been completed and that an afterword has been written, which he hopes to read to friends.

On page 21, however, he reports that he is under some friendly pressure not to publish the work, apparently for political reasons. On pages 31-32 he reports that the book has been rejected by a publisher because its perspective is insufficiently nationalistic.  Klemperer expresses regret at this rejection because he had hoped to earn some income from sales of the book – another important motive for writing it.

On page 46 he notes that he has finished (a revised version of?) the book but that it has not been published. One page 124 he is still hoping that the book may be published, but apparently (as a note on page 457 reveals) the work was not actually published until 1961 and 1963.

Klemperer’s commitment to the project, therefore, seems to have been simultaneously practical (a desire to earn some income), scholarly (a desire to contribute a significant work to his field of study), and personal (a desire to leave a bit of himself behind before he died).


(Citations are from the 1999 Modern Library edition.)

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