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Klemperer, Victor


KLEMPERER, VICTOR (1881–1960), German professor of Romance languages and literature. Klemperer was born in Landsberg (Warthe) as the ninth child in his family. He was the son of a Reform rabbi, and a cousin of the famous conductor Otto *Klemperer and brother of the surgeon Georg Klemperer, who was a physician to Lenin. Klemperer moved to Berlin at the age of nine and studied German, French literature, and theater in Munich, Geneva, Paris, and Berlin. In 1906 he married Eva Schlemmer and converted to Protestantism. In 1913 he was awarded a Ph.D. for his dissertation on Die Zeitromane Friedrich Spielhagens und ihre Wurzeln (1913). He then specialized in French literature and wrote his professorial dissertation on Montesquieu (2 vols. 1914/15). He held his first chair of French literature and history of literature at the University of Dresden. During his tenure at the university he published various academic articles and monographs; among them his Idealistische Literaturgeschichte (1929) in which he expressed his notion of the symbiosis between language and cultural history.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933 Klemperer was deprived of his academic position and isolated. Nonetheless, he continued to express his feelings as a German patriot. He survived with the help of his non-Jewish wife and fled Dresden for the last few months of the war. Klemperer returned to Dresden after the war and joined the Communist Party in 1945 but distanced himself from its ideas. Living in the former gdr, Klemperer was allowed by the party to pursue his career ambitiously. His most important book, lti. Notizbuch eines Philologen (1947), focused on the speech and language of Nazism. The lti stood for Lingua Tertii Imperii, the language of the Third Reich with its barrage of abbreviations and euphemisms and its exploitation of humanity. Klemperer became a significant cultural figure in East Germany, teaching at the universities of Greifswald and Halle. He even became a delegate of the Cultural Union in the GDR parliament. However, he despaired of the political situation and called the prevailing language of the Communists during the Cold War Lingua Quartii Imperii. This language in Klemperer's opinion closely resembled the lti but he himself also used it when polemicizing against West Germany. Klemperer's desire for recognition was not satisfied. Obtaining a chair at the famous Humboldt University and the national award of the former gdr seemed not to be honorable enough.

In West Germany Klemperer remained unknown until his diaries written during the Nazi persecution were published in the 1990s. They became a national bestseller and the basis of a tv series. His first diary, covering the years 1918 to 1933, was published under the title Leben sammeln, nicht fragen wozu und warum (1996). His personal notes from 1933 to 1945, Ichwill Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten (1995), became a means to cope with his desolate situation and were meant to be a cultural history of the time and a testimony of daily tyranny. It was followed by the publication of his diaries from June through December 1945, Und alles ist so schwankend (1996). His ambivalence between official political assimilation and his personal liberal thinking during that time can be retraced in his publication of personal notes between 1945 and 1959, So sitze ich zwischen den Stuehlen (1999).


J.W. Young, "From lti to lqi: Victor Klemperer on Totalitarian Language," in: German Studies Review, 28 (2005), 45–64; S. Landt, Faschismuskritik aus dem Geist des Nation-alismus: Victor Klemperers antifaschistische Sprachkritik (2002); S.E. Aschheim, Scholem, Arendt, Klemperer: intimate chronicles in turbulent times. (2001); K. Fischer-Hupe, Victor Klemperers "lti. Notizbuch eines Philologen": ein Kommentar (2001).

[Ann-Kristin Koch (2nd ed.)]

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