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Klemperer, Victor


Nationality: German. Born: Landsberg-on-the-Warthe, Brandenburg, 1881. Education: Ph.D. Military Service: Germany Army during World War I: Distinguished Service Medal. Family: Married Eva Schlemmer. Career: Professor, historian, journalist, and film critic. Worked as a freelance writer and journalist prior to World War I; professor of Romance languages and literature, Dresden University of Technology, 1920-35, fired for being Jewish, reinstated in his position after World War II. Awards: Geschwister Scholl prize for civic courage (posthumous); National Book Critics Circle award nomination, 2001, for Volume II of I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1942-45.



Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten: Tagebücher 1933-1941, edited by Walter Nowojski. 1995; as I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years 1933-1941, 1998.

Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten: Tagebücher 1942-1945, edited by Walter Nowojski. 1995; as I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years 1942-45, 1999.

Zwiespältiger denn je: Dresdner Tagebuch 1945, Juni bis Dezember. 1995; as Und so ist alles schwankend: Tagebücher Juni bis Dezember 1945, edited by Günter Jäckel, 1996.

Leben sammeln, nicht fragen wozu und warum: Tagebücher 1918-1924, edited by Walter Nowojski. 1996.

Leben sammeln, nicht fragen wozu und warum: Tagebücher 1925-1932, edited by Walter Nowojski. 1996.

So sitze ich denn zwischen allen Stühlen: Tagebücher 1945-1949, edited by Walter Nowojski. 1999.

So sitze ich denn zwischen allen Stühlen: Tagebücher 1950-1959, edited by Walter Nowojski. 1999.


Talmud-Sprüche. 1906.

Adolf Wilbrandt, eine Studie über seine Werke. 1907.

Paul Heyse. 1907.

Prinz Emel von Schönaich-Carolath. 1908.

Paul Lindau. 1909.

Deutsche Zeitdichtung von den Freiheitskriegen bis zur Reichsgründung. 1911.

Die Zeitromane Friedrich Spielhagens und ihre Wurzeln. 1913.

Montesquieu (2 vols.). 1914.

Einführung in das mittelfranzösische; Texte und Erläuterungen für die Zeit vom XIII. bis zum XVII. Jahrhundert. 1921.

Die moderne französische Prosa (1870-1920): Studie und erläuterte Texte. 1923.

Die romanischen Literaturen von der Renaissance bis zur französischen Revolution, with Helmut Hatzfeld and Fritz Neubert. 1924.

Die moderne französische Literatur und die deutsche Schule; Drei Vorträge. 1925.

Romanische Sonderart: Geistesgeschichtliche Studien. 1926.

Stücke und Studien zur modernen französischen Prosa. 1926.

Die moderne französische Lyrik von 1870 bis zur Gegenwart, Studie und erläuterte Texte. 1929.

Idealistische Literaturgeschichte; grundsätzliche und anwendende Studien. 1929.

Pierre Corneille. 1933.

LTI; notizbuch eines philologen. 1947; annotated edition, with Roderick H. Watt, 1997; as The Language of the ThirdReich: LTI, lingua tertii imperii; A Philologist's Notebook, 1999.

Delilles "Gärten": Ein Mosaikbild des 18. Jahrhunderts. 1954.

Zur gegenwärtigen Sprachsituation in Deutschland; Vortrag, gehalten im Klub der Kulturschaffenden, Berlin. 1954.

Vor 33 nach 45: Gesammelte Aufsätze. 1956.

Geschichte der französischen Literatur im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, 1800-1925. 1956.

Der Alte und der neue Humanismus. 1956.

Die moderne französische Lyrik (Dekadenz, Symbolismus, Neuromantik) Studie und kommentierte Texte. 1957.

Curriculum vitae: Erinnerungen eines Philologen: 1881-1918, edited by Walter Nowojski. 1989.

Editor, with Eugen Lerch, Idealistische Neuphilologie; Festschrift für Karl Vossler zum 6. September 1922. 1922.

Editor, with Julius Wahle, Vom Geiste neuer Literaturforschung: Festschrift für Oskar Walzel. 1924.

Editor and translator, with Eva Klemperer, Novellen, by Guy de Maupassant. 1950.

Editor and translator, Wahrhaftige Geschichte, by Baron de Charles de Secondat Montesquieu. 1954.


Film Adaptation:

I Will Bear Witness (television), 1999.

Critical Studies:

"Victor Klemperer (1881-1960): Reflections on His 'Third Reich' Diaries" by Hans Reiss, in German Life and Letters (England), 51(1), January 1998; pp. 65-92; "Victor Klemperer's 'Sprache des vierten Reiches': LTILQI?" by Roderick H. Watt, in German Life and Letters, 51(3), July 1998, pp. 360-71; "Prussianism, Nazism, and Romanticism in the Thought of Victor Klemperer" by Lawrence Birken, in The German Quarterly, 72(1), Winter 1999, pp. 33-43; "From the Forgotten Everyday-Life of Tyranny: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer" by Vanessa Agnew, translated by Susanne Zur Nieden, in Marginal Voices, Marginal Forms: Diaries in European Literature and History, edited by Rachel Langford and Russell West, 1999; "What Victor Klemperer Saw" by Daniel Johnson, in Commentary, 109(6), June 2000, pp. 44-50; "Diary of a Tightrope Walker: Victor Klemperer and His Posterity" by Katie Trumpener, in Modernism/Modernity, 7(3), September 2000, pp. 487-507; Scholem, Arendt, Klemperer: Intimate Chronicles in Turbulent Times by Steven E. Aschheim, 2001.

* * *

Victor Klemperer was born in 1881, the son of a reformed rabbi. He grew up in Berlin. By Klemperer's own admission he was daunted by the precocity of his older brothers, one of whom eventually became a distinguished professor of medicine at Harvard. The result was that Klemperer's own career got off to a slow start. As a young man, in fact, he held several jobs that had nothing to do with Romance literature, which would become his field. In 1913 Klemperer completed his Habilitationschrift on Montesquieu while working as a cultural journalist.

Klemperer soon got sidetracked again. He volunteered for military service in 1915 and fought on the Western Front. And so by the time his academic career began in earnest, Klemperer, who had converted to Protestantism and married a non-Jew, was a veteran and almost 40 years old. His new confessional status helped him attain a professorship at the Technical University in Dresden. His military service and marriage helped him keep it—at least for a while—after the Nazi policy of cultural coordination (Gleichschaltung ) had gone into effect. More important, Klemperer's marriage saved him from being deported.

Klemperer lost his academic post in 1935. For the next six years he continued to lead a life of bourgeois material comfort, however, even as he experienced terrible psychic duress. Not only could he have been interned for keeping the secret diary that brought him posthumous fame, I Will Bear Witness (1998; the abridged German edition, Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten, appeared in 1995), but also he and his wife, Eva, were hypochondriacs. Klemperer seems to have felt that his heart was not equal to the strain that had been imposed on it and that he soon would die. Eva suffered from fits of hysteria. Yet Klemperer continued to work, on the diaries and also on various scholarly projects.

In 1941 his situation changed dramatically. He and Eva were forced to move into a "Jew House," and he no longer could use the university library. Like almost everyone else in Dresden, the Klemperers had to scrounge for food. And both he and Eva were repeatedly beaten by the Gestapo. Scholarly work became impossible. But Klemperer did not give up the diaries, smuggling them in a Greek dictionary to a friend's house for safekeeping. In the diaries Klemperer reveals himself to be a relentless critic of Nazi culture and of everyone complicitous with it and also to be a great believer in humanist values, even in the face of so much inhumanity. After the war his resilience persisted. He enjoyed a successful career as a Romanist in East Germany, holding several chairs and publishing widely until his death in 1960. This constellation of characteristics won Klemperer many admirers, including some of the leading lights of Holocaust studies—for example, the historians Gordon Craig and Saul Friedländer . And in Germany I Will Bear Witness was made into a reverential, multipart television film, which aired, to mixed reviews, in 1999.

But as another eminent historian—István Deák—has pointed out, Klemperer did not only heroically record the complexities of the Holocaust, such as the diverse attitudes of Germans toward Jews, he also embodied its complexities. For Klemperer was both a great humanist and an arch misanthrope. He risked his life for posterity by keepings his diaries. Yet he gratuitously named by name the non-Jews who helped him, thereby needlessly subjecting them to great risk. And Klemperer was more than ungrateful toward the people he relied on most. He actually seemed to exult in their demise. That Klemperer acknowledged his vanity and pettiness does little to make these characteristics more attractive. Klemperer was very well informed about the fate of European Jewry. Nonetheless, throughout the war he criticized German Jews for giving up cosmopolitan German values and regressing into ghetto behavior. And for all his fulminations about the treachery of German intellectuals and about how severely they should be punished, Klemperer after the war quietly worked alongside former Nazis. He leaves us brave and precise testimony—and a number of difficult questions.

—Paul Reitter

See the essay on I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years.

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