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Victor Klemperer (9 October 1881 – 11 February 1960) was a businessman, journalist and eventually a Professor of Literature, specialising in the French Enlightenment at the Technische Universität Dresdenmarker. His diaries detailing his life, successively, in the German Empiremarker, the Weimar Republicmarker, Nazi Germany and in the German Democratic Republicmarker were published in 1995.

Early life

Klemperer was born in Landsberg an der Warthemarker (now Gorzów Wielkopolski, Poland) to a Jewish family. His father was a rabbi {Dr. Wilhelm Klemperer and wife Henriette née' Frankel}, cousin to the famous conductor Otto Klemperer and brother to the surgeon Georg Klemperer, who was a personal physician to Lenin. He was a second cousin of actor Werner Klemperer through Otto, Werner's father.

Victor Klemperer attended several gymnasiums. 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 in 1913 and was habilitated under the supervision of Karl Vossler in 1914. From 1914 to 1915, Klemperer lectured in Naples, after which he became a decorated military volunteer of World War I.

In Nazi Germany

Notwithstanding his conversion to Protestantism in 1912, and his strong identification with German culture, which he regarded as his own 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 document of the day-to-day account of life under the tyranny of the Third Reich. The diaries have been published in two volumes: "I shall bear witness" and "To the bitter end". 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 Theresienstadtmarker. (In one May 1942 passage, the Klemperers are forced to put down their household cat, a tomcat named Muschel, 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 was rehoused under miserable conditions in a ghetto (Judenhaus), where he was routinely questioned, mistreated and humiliated by the Gestapomarker. 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.

Despite this, Klemperer's unique and important diary chronicles humankind's ability to adapt to adverse circumstances and to pass even the most adverse days with a degree of dignity.

Flight

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 Bavariamarker and Eastern Germany) to their house in Dölzschen, on the outskirts of Dresdenmarker. They managed to reclaim the house, which had been "aryanised" under the Nazis.

Post-war

Klemperer went on to become a significant post-war cultural figure in East Germanymarker, lecturing at the universities of Greifswaldmarker, Berlinmarker and Hallemarker. He became a delegate of the Cultural Union in the GDRmarker 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.

Documentary

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.

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