Victor Klemperer,
I Will Bear Witness: 1933-1941,
A Diary of the Nazi Years
translated to English by Martin Chalmers
(Random House, 2000;
Modern Library, 2001)

I Will Bear Witness is the first of two volumes of entries compiled from the journals of a German/Jew academic named Victor Klemperer. Although there are minor inconsistencies due to the abridgement to English from the original German version, there are plenty of brief notes to enlighten the reader as to persons and events.

What makes these entries so intriguing is their disarming honesty and directness, and the fact that they were not written with publication in mind. There is no reworking of these diaries to make them more stylistically appealing, nor is there any self-censorship used to make Klemperer appear in a better light. It is his raw emotion that grabs the reader as he fills his need to settle accounts with the events of the day as they affect his own life.

This is not just another holocaust memoir -- these are exerpts from a lifetime of journal writing that detail the everyday life in Dresden during all 12 years of the Third Reich. In fact, the "great" events of the day merely blend into the rest of the entries. What is striking are the accounts of the visits -- the dinners with friends ... the accounts of fellow academics "dropping like flies" at the university ... the accounts of his wife Eva's health problems.

While this book is not, by any means, an enjoyable read, it is extremely poignant and compelling. If one is searching for another accounting that leads you through a concentration camp survival, it is not found here. What is found is a rich, if disturbing, trip into Dresden during the Reich. What is found are passionate entries detailing the step-by-step humiliation of Jewry and accountings of the abuse on the streets.

One of Klemperer's more passionate entries (Aug. 16, 1936) was aimed at a fellow academic who lent support to the Nazi party. "...I would have all the intellectuals [supporting the Reich] strung up, and the intellectuals three feet higher than the rest; they would be left hanging from the lampposts as long as was compatible with hygiene!"

I Will Bear Witness is a veritable emotional rollercoaster that will draw tears and rage after completing one entry, while drawing snickers after the next is read. Although this book is NOT a light foray into Nazi Germany, it is a must-read by any who have interest in Holocaust studies. After completing it, do yourself a favor and run to the bookstore and buy the second volume!

- Rambles
written by Brenda Cook
published 19 June 2004

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