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Victor Klemperer
Born (1881-10-09)9 October 1881
Landsberg an der Warthe, Brandenburg, Prussia, Germany,
today Gorzów Wielkopolski, Poland
Died 11 February 1960(1960-02-11) (aged 78)
Dresden, East Germany
Occupation Professor
Spouse(s) Eva Klemperer née Schlemmer (1882-07-12-->–1951)
Hadwig Klemperer née Kirchner (1952–1960)
Parents Wilhelm Klemperer
Henriette Klemperer née Frankel

Victor Klemperer (9 October 1881 – 11 February 1960) was a diarist whose journals, published in 1995, detailed his life under successive German states—-the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany and the German Democratic Republic. His recollections on the Third Reich have since become standard sources; extensively quoted by Saul Friedländer,[1] Michael Burleigh[2] and Richard J. Evans.[3]

Early life

Klemperer was born in Landsberg an der Warthe (now Gorzów Wielkopolski, Poland) to a Jewish family. His father was a rabbi (Dr. Wilhelm Klemperer, wife Henriette Frankel), cousin to conductor Otto Klemperer and brother to the surgeon Georg Klemperer, a personal physician to Lenin. Victor Klemperer was first cousin once removed of actor Werner Klemperer through Otto, Werner's father.

Victor Klemperer attended several Gymnasien. He was a student of philosophy, Romance and German studies at universities in Munich, Geneva, Paris and Berlin from 1902 to 1905 and later worked as a journalist and writer in Berlin until he continued his studies in Munich from 1912. He completed his doctorate (on Montesquieu) in 1913 and was habilitated under the supervision of Karl Vossler in 1914. From 1914 to 1915, Klemperer lectured at the University of Naples, after which he became a decorated military volunteer of World War I.[4]

In Nazi Germany

Despite his conversion to Protestantism in 1912 and his strong identification with German culture, Klemperer's life started to worsen considerably after the Nazi rise to power in 1933.

He kept a diary, which, from 1933 through the end of the war, provides an exceptional historical and humane account of day-to-day life under the tyranny of the Third Reich. Two of the three volumes of his diaries that have been published in English translation, "I shall bear witness" and "To the bitter end," concern this period. This diary also insightfully details the Nazis' perversion of the German language for propaganda purposes, which Klemperer would use as the basis for his later book LTI - Lingua Tertii Imperii. Chiefly, Klemperer's diary chronicles the daily life of restricted Jews during the Nazi terror, including the onset of a succession of prohibitions concerning many aspects of everyday existence (e.g., finances, transportation, medical care, the maintenance and use of household help, food and diet, and the possession of appliances, newspapers, and other items). Particularly harrowing are accounts of 'suicides', household searches, and evacuations of friends, mostly to Theresienstadt. In one May 1942 passage, the Klemperers are forced to put down their household cat, a tomcat named Maschel, because of a restriction on pets. In addition, the diary hints at the profound paucity of information Klemperer and his fellow victims had available to them concerning the nature of atrocities being conducted in places such as Theresienstadt following transports and evacuations. From 1935, under the Nuremberg Laws of Citizenship and Race, Klemperer was stripped of his academic title, job, citizenship and freedom and eventually forced to work in a factory and as a day laborer. (In some passages, Klemperer writes of being made to work shoveling snow with a bad heart.) Since his wife, Eva, was "Aryan," Klemperer dodged deportation for most of the war, but in 1940 he was rehoused under miserable conditions in a "Jews' House" (Judenhaus), where he was routinely questioned, mistreated and humiliated by the Gestapo. In the diary, the much-feared Gestapo is seen carrying out daily, humiliating and brutal house searches, delivering beatings, hurling insults, and robbing inhabitants of coveted foodstuffs and other household items.


On 13 February 1945, the day preceding the night bombing of Dresden, he assisted in delivering notices of deportation to some of the last remaining members of the Jewish community in Dresden. Fearful that he too would soon be sent to his death, he used the confusion created by Allied bombings that night to remove his yellow star, join a refugee column, and escape into American-controlled territory. He and his wife survived and Klemperer's diary narrates their return (largely on foot through Bavaria and Eastern Germany) to their house in Dölzschen, on the outskirts of Dresden. They managed to reclaim the house, which had been "aryanised" under the Nazis.


Klemperer went on to become a significant post-war cultural figure in East Germany, lecturing at the universities of Greifswald, Berlin and Halle. He became a delegate of the Cultural Association of the GDR in the GDR Parliament (Volkskammer) in 1950. Klemperer's diary was published in 1995 as Tagebücher (Berlin, Aufbau). It was an immediate literary sensation and rapidly became a bestseller in Germany. An English translation has appeared in three volumes: I Will Bear Witness (1933 to 1941), To The Bitter End (1942 to 1945) and The Lesser Evil (1945 to 1959).

In 1995, Victor Klemperer was posthumously awarded the Geschwister-Scholl-Preis for his work, Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten. Tagebücher 1933–1945.


In 2000, Herbert Gantschacher wrote, together with Katharina and Jürgen Rostock, the documentary play Chronicle 1933-1945 by using original documents from the biographies of Robert Ley and Victor Klemperer. The first performance took place in 2000 in the documentation centre at the planned "Strength Through Joy" beach resort Prora on the island of Rügen in Germany.[5]

In 2003, Stan Neumann directed a documentary based on Klemperer's diaries, La langue ne ment pas (Language does not lie), which considers the importance of Klemperer's observations and the role of the witness in such situations, and reflects on how we must vigilantly observe how those in power manipulate language.

See also

  • Union of Persecutees of the Nazi Regime


  • Chalmers, Martin; Klemperer, Victor (1998). I shall bear witness: the diaries of Victor Klemperer, 1933-41. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-81842-2. 
  • Chalmers, Martin; Klemperer, Victor (1999). To the bitter end: the diaries of Victor Klemperer, 1942-1945. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-81880-5. 
  • Chalmers, Martin; Klemperer, Victor (2004). The Lesser Evil: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1945-1959 (Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1945-59). London: Phoenix Books. ISBN 0-7538-1794-2. 
  • Victor Klemperer, Early life at the Aufbau-Verlag website (German)
  • Victor Klemperer Kolleg, Berlin (German)
  • Bartov, Omer, "The Last German", in The New Republic, 1998-12-28, pp. 34+ (scholarly overview of the Klemperer diaries by a professor at Brown University)

External links


  1. See: Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution, 1933-39 Harper Perennial, 1998 ISBN 978-0-06-092878-0 and Nazi Germany and the Jews: the Years of Destruction, 1939-45 Harper Perennial, 2008 ISBN 978-0-06-093048-6
  2. See: The Third Reich: A New History Hill and Wang, 2001 ISBN 978-0-8090-9326-7
  3. See his "Third Reich Trilogy", The Coming of the Third Reich Penguin, 2005 ISBN 978-0-14-303469-8, The Third Reich in Power Penguin, 2006 ISBN 978-0-14-303790-3, The Third Reich at War Penguin, 2009 ISBN 978-1-59420-206-3
  4. Because of this decoration he was dismissed by the Nazis from his professorship not already immediately after April 1933, but only two years later.

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