Cecilia Perez
History 133Q
January 17th & 24th, 2006

Discussion questions for Victor Klemperer's diary for the years 1933-1941, I will bear witness
(first set are for 1933-38, second set for 1939-41)

  1. What about Klemperer’s background makes his diary a unique and important historical resource for future generations?
  2. Given that judges and officials of Jewish decent were already being kicked out of their high-ranking positions as early as March of 1933, why did Klemperer insist on remaining at the University, and in Germany, even though it meant that further “nationalization” of civil service offices could eventually cost him his job?
  3. Beyond his personal diary, Klemperer also kept manuscripts that could have potentially got him in trouble with the Nazi party had they ever been found. Why was Klemperer willing to continue editing and writing works that he knew would not have a chance of being published in the near future, instead of spending his energy and resources on trying to move out of the country or escape the oppression he faced?
  4. By the time Klemperer is asked to leave his post, it is too late for him to receive assistance from international organizations specializing in helping German professors find work abroad. However, as early as 1933, he had already learned about one such organization in London and was living under the fear that things could only get worse in Germany. Why had it not occurred to him to sign up with the organization and see if anything might come of it? Could something have been done at this point in time or would his fate have been the same?
  5. At one point, Klemperer mentions that Eva felt that “the attitude of the Jews toward [National Socialism was] making her anti-Semitic.” (p. 35.) How does this exemplify the conflicted opinions that Klemperer goes on to describe throughout his diary? How does this affect his relations with the limited amount of acquaintances he maintains?
  6. Klemperer repeatedly mentions that while he was still lecturing, he did not follow the arm-raising policy, and also made remarks that could have been incriminating had any of his students decided to turn him into the authorities. How could Klemperer have had the courage to continue defying the Nazi regime in this manner (which certainly could have cost him his life), but been so hesitant to try to leave the country?
  7. In a June 1935 entry Klemperer wrote that Germans of all backgrounds believed that “if at the cost of going backward internally [Hitler] restores Germany’s power externally, then this cost is worthwhile.” (p. 127.) Why were people so willing to sacrifice public freedom, education, and even their safety to restore Germany to the world stage? Was this belief just a way for the German people to comfort themselves, or did they truly believe that it was worthwhile?
  8. How do everyday events described in the diary (such as the near accident on the birthday excursion of July 1936) show how the mentality of the German citizens became more anti-semitic and oppressive throughout the years?
  9. Klemperer and his wife spend a tremendous amount of their savings on their house, seasonal flower show tickets, car maintenance, excursions, and the North-Sea trip. Why do they continue to spend their money in these ways instead of saving it up in case it is needed in the future? What does this show about the internal struggle Klemperer faces about his thoughts on emigrating, his age and health, and overall future?

  1. Explain why Klemperer continues to spend money on movie outings and cigarettes, even though he and Eva are short on money and wearing rags from day to day. How does this reflect on his “fatalist” outlook?
  2. Why is it so important for Klemperer to record the language of the Third Reich? What does he hope to achieve by writing down the different contradictions and manipulations of language that became so prevalent in the Nazi government?
  3. Describe the different ways that Klemperer’s pride gets in the way of him being able to escape his current situation? Could his life have turned out any better had he not been such a proud individual?
  4. “No one can take my Germanness away from me, but my nationalism and patriotism are gone forever.” (p. 272). Explain the meaning behind this quote and how Klemperer’s feeling of Germanness wavers throughout the book.
  5. Why did Klemperer refer to Fraulein Gump’s comment that “nothing would get any better until we had a Jewish state” as pure Nazism? (p. 289). What does this tell us about Klemperer’s morals and views on government?
  6. How does Klemperer’s wish for a German defeat affect his feelings of nationalism and patriotism? Explain how this conflict seems to affect other Germans.
  7. Why does Eva remain with Victor through all the war years? Furthermore, if she was set on remaining with him, then why does she get so upset about being associated with the J (identity card) and why does she blame Victor for them being where they are?
  8. Why was the Nazi government willing to take people of mixed race, who could have helped fight their enemies, from the front lines when the help was so needed? What does this say about the government’s determination to suppress non-Aryans?
  9. Klemperer mentions in January of 1941 that more Jews who have been forced to emigrate or move away from their homes have been writing down their memoirs. Why were so many people interested in documenting not just the recent events under the Nazi regime, but their whole lives?

questions by Cecilia Perez, Jan. 17 & 24, 2006; prepared for web by H. Marcuse, Feb. 2, 2006; updated:
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