Victor Klemperer: Diarist of Nazi Germany

Robert Pearce recommends a first-hand account of the Third Reich.

‘In the late afternoon we walked up to Dölzschen.’ This line – the last words in two volumes of diaries by Victor Klemperer spanning the years from 1933 to 1945 – may seem matterof- fact, prosaic, even dull. Yet in fact they are wonderfully inspiring and life-affirming. They signal that a remarkable and courageous man, and his equally remarkable and courageous wife, had somehow managed to survive a monstrous tyranny. To appreciate the power of Klemperer’s simple statement, however, you have first to read the preceding 1,200 pages of diaries – one of the most detailed, compelling and revealing human documents from the Nazi period.

Germany’s Jewish Patriot

Victor Klemperer was born on 9 October 1881 in the small town of Lansberg on the Warthe, in the recently formed German Empire, the youngest of nine children of a rabbi. When Victor was nine, the family moved to Berlin. The Klemperers did their best to conform. The father was undoubtedly liberal: he called himself a priest, conducted services in German and observed no dietary restrictions. When his three elder brothers converted to Christianity in order to secure good jobs, two subsequently becoming doctors and another a lawyer, Victor did the same. He had some doubts about whether ‘Germanness’ and Jewry could be combined; but if they could not, he mused, he would choose the former. ‘Germanness meant everything to me and Jewry meant nothing’. He married a non-Jew in 1906, the pianist Eva Schlemmer, and voluntarily enrolled in the First World War, seeing action on the Western Front and being awarded the Bavarian Cross. If any Jew had proved his identity as a true German, it was surely Victor Klemperer. After the war be took up a post as professor at the Technical University of Dresden. He and Eva had many friends and travelled widely. It was a full and varied life.

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