Victor Klemperer’s diaries I Will Bear Witness (1933 to 1941), To The Bitter End (1942 to 1945) and The Lesser Evil (1945 to 1959), provide a unique insight of the day-to-day life under the tyranny of the Third Reich.
It is incredible to go through his story (and the story of his wife, Eva), the story of a German Jew in Dresden and the efforts to survive as the Nazis gain power and the years of terror unfold upon Klemperer and his family. Paying attention to many details, Klemperer presents the war reality in all of its aspects – from food and diet, medical care, transportation, finances, suicides, household searches, restrictions and evacuations to the language of war propaganda.
Victor Klemperer /photo via Bundesarchiv/
That is all very much known and Klemperer’s diaries have become standard sources when it comes to Third Reich. Cristopher Hitchens is just one of many who praised Klemperer’s work. In his review, Hitchens wrote: “There is a horrid fascination in reading this day-by-day chronicle as it unfolds, along with each cuff on the head and gob of spittle, because we know what’s coming, and he is only beginning to guess.” He goes on to describe Klemperer :
“He is intensely aware at all moments, perhaps because of his consciousness of being a ‘survivor,’ that death is only a breath away. He is one of the great kvetches of all time, endlessly recording aches and pains, bad dreams, shortages of food and medicine, snubs and humiliations. And, like everyone else, he wants everything both ways. In particular, he wants East Germany to be an open democracy with a real intellectual life, while insisting that all manifestations of reactionary and racist spirit be pitilessly crushed. This double-entry bookkeeping is something that he usually has the courage to confess (‘between two stools’ becomes his preferred cliché) even when he knows that the contradiction is not resolvable.”
What is little less known and less talked about when it comes to Victor Klemperer and his writings is his criticism of Zionism.
“Until 1933 and for at least a good century before that, the German Jews were entirely German and nothing else,” he writes in January 1939, six years after Hitler came to power. Nazis insisted on the concept of blood and race, and that was the biggest evil, Klemperer thought.
In that aspect, he often compared Zionism to Nazism, saying that like Nazism, Zionism turns the Jews into a separate racial category. He was a man who very much believed in assimilation, in the peaceful coexistence of different identities, so Israel as an exclusively Jewish state was not an option he would support.
In I Will Bear Witness, Klemperer writes:
“To me the Zionists, who want to go back to the Jewish state of A.D. 70 (destruction of Jerusalem by Titus) are just as offensive as the Nazis. With their nosing after blood, their ancient ‘cultural roots’, their partly canting, partly obtuse winding back of the world they are altogether a match for the National Socialists. That is the fantastic thing about the National Socialists, that they simultaneously share in a community of ideas with Soviet Russia and with Zion.”
In 1933, he writes: “I cannot help myself… I sympathise with the Arabs who are in revolt (in Palestine), whose land is being ‘bought’. A Red Indian fate, says Eva.”
In the times when the horrors of holocaust are wrongfully used, as Norman Finkelstein puts it “to justify criminal policies of the Israeli state and US support for these policies”, it is extremely important to read Victor Klemperer’s diaries, diaries of a Jew who, in the midst of the greatest atrocities and injustice done to his people, found it in his heart (and mind) to criticize the injustice done to other people (people far away, with whom he shared no blood, no language, no history), the injustice done by Zionist while establishing the Jewish state of Israel. It’s a history lesson we ought to pay attention to, for future’s sake.