This is the second volume of the diary kept by Victor Klemperer - a Jewish-born Christian academic married to an 'Aryan' wife living in Dresden, Germany - during the Nazi years. These diary entries were written by a man who knew that he was living in a time that would one day make the history books. I'd recommend reading this book if you are interested in this era of our history and/or you enjoy reading well-written diaries.
He is reproached at one point by an acquaintance who tells him no one is going to care about the details he records, and Klemperer responds, "It's not the big things that are important to me, but the everyday life of tyranny, which gets forgotten. I observe, note down the mosquito bites." Curiously, Klemperer encounters a great deal of sympathy and friendliness from everyday Germans; many Aryan friends and acquaintances help in small ways, and strangers approach him on the street to tell him to bear up because it can't last forever. I look forward to reading the third and last volume, detailing Klemperer's life in post-war Communist Germany.
But he did continue the personal diary he had begun many years earlier, now with the purpose of documenting not the big picture of Nazism in Germany (he would leave that to historians) but the experience of it by a single individual, along with other ordinary personal matters he had been recording for decades. My answer has to do with the special character of the diaries, their combination of documentation of a horror growing worse with each passing day (everyone Klemperer talks to believes such an absurd regime will surely fall within months) and the details of a middle-aged upper-middle-class couple's life, including the stresses and strains on their marriage, not all of them the result of Nazi oppression. One quickly comes to feel one is living with the Klemperers, if only as a fly on the wall, as they struggle to complete the construction of their "dream house" in a suburb just outside Dresden Eva's obsession despite their having to subsist on a modest pension after her husband losses his university post. The daily visits to the house site as they scrape together the money to lay a foundation, then construct modest living quarters and, of course, a garden, seem like an exercise in futility, given what the reader knows is going to happen a few years later. And, besides, as the author of these diaries keeps asserting, he, Victor Klemperer, is a German, a real German, not like the aberrations who had taken over his country, though his faith in that identity is sorely tried over the next twelve years. In the '30s, Victor is careful to not complain about Eva's morning fits or constant dental emergencies or her obsession with the house, but the reader wonders what is going on in the woman's mind, when (with the hindsight of history) the dreadful future seems so clearly written on the wall. But as the years pass and the noose tightens economically and in every other way around the necks of Jews, Eva meets each new deprivation with remarkable personal resources, not just sharing all of her husband's social and economic disabilities but assisting neighbors in need in the "Jews houses" where the Klemperers are finally forced to live, right down to scrubbing their floors. Among these is the obvious fact that many Germans had no use for Hitler, were sympathetic to those the Nazis designated as Jews or otherwise non-Aryan and, as might be expected in a situation where getting the wherewithal just to survive became more and more difficult, were largely ignorant of the strictures Jews were living under. And on the question of what ordinary Germans knew about the "Final Solution," even Jews themselves didn't realize what shipment to Theresienstadt meant until the last year or two of the war. " There seem, in fact, to be two distinct kinds of (Aryan) Germans in these diaries: Nazi thugs who descend on Jews' apartments, beat up the old women and men and steal the butter off the table before trashing the place; and "ordinary" Germans, even officials like local police who, when they had to visit the Jews Houses, doffed their hats, shook hands, apologized for the intrusion and even offered words of reassurance. Is it because life as Klemperer records it is too complex for our sound-bite culture (some of the older men in the Jews House cheer for the Wehrmacht they had fought against the Brits and French in the first world war and can't bring themselves to change sides). It's impossible to summarize a work as varied and rich as these diaries, never mind give a sense for the experience of living through those years vicariously with the Klemperers.
Eva does not like to hear me talking about Hitler; I myself am as intensively concerned with him as a cancer researcher is with cancer.This second translated volume of Victor Klemperers diaries, covers the years 1942-1945, which spans the period when the Final Solution was implemented through months after the end of WWII. His diary entries document the ever increasing number of indignities and threats the dwindling Jewish community faced. Oddly, Klemperer, on the one hand, makes clear that the Jewish community had intimate knowledge about the atrocities taking place in the concentration camps and in, as Timothy Snyder called them, the Bloodlands. Even people who are close to the Jews are not aware of the petty bullying or the brutal murders. Jewish schools were shut down, which Klemperer called An intellectual death sentence, enforced illiteracy. An elderly Jewish woman is overheard telling a friend about the great fortune of getting extra fish from a sympathetic vendor, is denounced, has her house searched, and is sent to a concentration camp, from which she will certainly not survive. Another woman was sent to a camp when she was caught taking the streetcar to a doctors office instead of work. When a neighbor brings him and Eva a little pot of primroses it is a heroic deed, which can put one in a concentration camp and so cost ones life. In early 1942, he describes how friends and acquaintances commit suicide after repeated harassment and threats of being sent to concentration camps which is now evidently identical with a death sentence. Even the news of death camps spread quickly, In the last few days, I heard Auschwitz (or something like it)mentioned as the most dreadful concentration camp. Work in a mine, death within a few days. Even stories from as far away as Romania, where Jews were forced to dig their own graves before being shot made their way to Dresden. (Very weak-kneed definition.) His reading of Herzls Zionist Writings. Two days later the wife of a friend says Hitler must not be allowed to die, he can be used to earn money by taking him around the world in a cageone dollar to look at him, two dollars to spit on him, three dollars to smack him in the mug.
This is the second volume of Klemperers diary spanning the years of the rise of Nazism to the final days of the conflict in Europe. It is, as is the first part, an almost day-by-day account of the horrors he and his wife and the rest of the Jewish population of Dresden went through. As the war progressed, more and more restrictions were placed on the Jews. They learn of the deaths of their departed members via letters from camp officials, and are presented with the ashes of them in standard urns. Klemperer and his wife made it through the conflict because of the bombing of Dresden towards the end of the war.
Being in a "mixed marriage", Klemperer enjoys more freedom than if he were married to a Jewish woman. Interestingly enough, Klemperer and his fellow Jews were completely unaware of the mass murders occurring at concentration camps until Hitler's regime fell. They also knew several acquaintenances and friends who were killed while supposedly trying to escape these camps, but were clueless as to how many Jews were being killed and the brutal conditions of the camps. This was partially due to the ban on Jewish families, even those in mixed marriages, receiving newspapers and hearing the news, but it's still crazy to think that it was somewhat secret.
It was a challenge to read this diary-book because it is as if you are given privy to a long (500+ pages) personal diary which is unstructured. Anne Frank was in a hiding and she had nothing to do behind the cabinet by Professor Klemperer was out in the open (being in a mixed marriage, i.e., married to an Aryan) but he guarded his journal with his life particularly when Dresden was liberated by the Anglo American and he and Eva had to flee to other German cities.
the book details some of the minutae of life as a jew in Germany outside the concentration camps.
The book is more or less a printout of his 1942-45 diaries consisting of the minutiae of daily life, of the bare larders, of the diminishing quantities of potatoes, of having to report to the Nazi authorities without ever knowing whether he would be arrested or whether it was just another question of more Nazi bureaucracy and hed be allowed to return home, of having to get off the bus because his yellow star disturbed fellow travellers.