Monday, February 15, 2010
For the past month, I have spent a lot of time with three volumes of Victor Klemperer's diaries: I Will Bear Witness, To the Bitter End and The Lesser Evil. These cover his life from Hitler's rise to power in 1933 to Klemperer's death in 1960. I finished reading the last volume on the subway this afternoon. As I've begun wading through the endnotes, I see that there is another volume of the diaries about Klemperer's early life, but it hasn't been translated into English yet.
There is one (1) reference to the beloved character actor Werner Klemperer, who was Victor's first cousin's (the orchestra conductor Otto Klemperer's son, described as "an actor in New York." He was in a show a friend of mine directed fifteen years ago, and I got to meet him. She had a bad cold at the time, and he was pushing chicken soup on her. It was all very familiar and German to me, and he sounded remarkably like my maternal grandmother. The diaries in the 1930s until 1945 are full of details about what it was like to be a Jew in Germany under Hitler (despite the fact that Klemperer had been baptized a Protestant before World War I, and that he'd served in the German Imperial Army). He survived because of his "Aryan" wife, Eva Schlemmer. He details so much angst and fear, so much time spent trying to get food (ration cards, long queues, shortages, etc.), and his heroic efforts to keep up his scholarly work (he was a professor of French literature) and these very diaries.
After the end of World War II, Klemperer regained his professorship in Dresden, and other appointments in Halle, Berlin and Greifswald. His wife died, and he married one of his students. Klemperer cast his lot with the GDR, not West Germany, because of his fear of the resurgence of Nazism and the unchecked capitalism of the West. To me, the saddest part of The Lesser Evil (the last volume), is one of the last entries in 1959 where he admits that he finally sees through the sham of democracy in the GDR, and if it wasn't for his concerns about his wife being adequately provided for after his death (he would be dead in less than six months), he would renounce every bit of it.