Victor Klemperer’s “I Will Bear Witness: 1933-1941”

One of the more interesting books I have read in a while.

Victor Kemperer was born Jewish in 1881 (son of a rabbi) and converted to Protestantism in his early thirties and married a non-Jewish woman.  He was a respected professor of Romance languages and literature at Dresden Technical University.  He was a compulsive diarist and notetaker.

Many Jews had converted to Christianity in Germany during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Most were not religious.  They considered themselves Christian, more or less, and they continued to consider themselves Jewish, more or less.  And most of all, they considered themselves German.

Klemperer’s diary has been published in four separate volumes, covering 1918-1932, 1933-1941, 1942-1945, and 1945-1959.  So one secret is out; he lived through the Nazi years, surviving the Holocaust and even the Dresden firebombing.  But it wasn’t easy.

Like many Germans, he is shocked when Adolf Hitler is named Chancellor in January 1933, and equally shocked when the Nazis performed so well during the elections a few months later.  Surely, this was a passing phenomena.

The diary tells the personal story of the Klemperers.  It follows the professional/intellectual interests of the author.  And it tells the story of Nazi Germany from a very unique perspective.

Some excerpts from 1933 to give you a hint:

March 10, 1933:  “Eight days before the election the clumsy business of the Reichstag fire – I cannot imagine that anyone really believes in Communist perpetrators instead of paid Nazi work.”

“A complete revolution and party dictatorship.  And all opposing forces as if vanished from the face of the earth.”

March 20, 1933:  “In a pharmacy, toothpaste with the swastika”

“No one fears for their lives yet.”

March 30, 1933:  “I have always imagined: the Twentieth Century and Mitteleuropa was different from the fourteenth century and Romania.  Mistake.”

March 31, 1933:  “…and the honor of German students forbids them to come into contact with Jews.  They are not allowed to enter the Student House.  How much Jewish money went toward this Student House only a few years ago.”

April 12, 1933:  “For the moment, I am safe.  But as someone on the gallows, who has the rope around his neck, is safe.”

April 25, 1933:  “The fate of the Hitler movement will undoubtedly be decided by the Jewish business.  I do not understand why they have made this point of their program so central.  It will sink them.  But we will probably go down with them.”

July 9, 1933:  “We hear a lot about Palestine now; it does not appeal to us.  Anyone who goes there exchanges nationalism and narrowness for nationalism and narrowness.”

July 13, 1933:  “It is absolutely un-German and consequently will not have any kind of long-term duration.  But for the moment, it is organized with German thoroughness and therefore unlikely to be removed in the foreseeable future.”

August 19, 1933:  “I simply cannot believe that the mood of the masses is really behind Hitler.  Too many signs of the opposite.  But everyone, literally everyone, cringes with fear.”

And of course, it gets worse and worse, step by step, week by week.  Horrible times, but fascinating reading.

2 thoughts on “Victor Klemperer’s “I Will Bear Witness: 1933-1941”

  1. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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