In This Review

I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, Vol. II, 1941-1945
I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, Vol. II, 1941-1945
By Victor Klemperer
Random House, 2000, 544 pp

The second volume of Klemperer's diary is even more fascinating than the first. This penetrating and terrifying account of the Third Reich illuminates the routinization of evil -- including the increasing humiliation and restrictions imposed by the Nazis during the war -- from the victim's perspective. But leading a life of "fear and hunger" does not prevent Klemperer from reporting on daily life and reflecting on numerous issues, whether modern Jewish insecurity, the influence of language on national consciousness, or the links between German Romanticism and Nazism. All this was written during mandatory moves and spells of forced labor. The pages covering spring 1945 are particularly vivid. Living in Dresden with his non-Jewish wife, Eva, Klemperer was told in February that he would soon be "arrested" along with the last remaining Jews. In a remarkable twist of fate, the Allied firebombing of Dresden immediately followed. With the city in chaos, he and Eva fled the burning ruins for American-occupied Bavaria. Along the way, he describes a country in collapse and a people torn between support for Hitler and increasing despair and repudiation -- but with no sense of responsibility for the regime's horrors. When they finally meet American soldiers in Munich, Klemperer records his ambivalence over the war's destruction: "I rejoice in God's vengeance on the henchmen of the Third Reich É and yet I find it dreadful now to see the victors and avengers racing through the city, which they have so hellishly wrecked." The Klemperers then returned to Dresden, where he finished both his autobiography and a book on Nazi language -- the projects, along with the dairy, that gave him the will to live through circumstances that drove many of his friends to suicide. This is a work of inexhaustible value.