Victor Klemperer

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Victor Klemperer (9 October 188111 February 1960) worked as a commercial apprentice, a journalist and eventually a Professor of Literature, specialising in the French Enlightenment at the Technische Universität Dresden. His diaries detailing his life under successive German states—the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany and the German Democratic Republic—were published in 1995.


  • Never - never in my whole life - has my head spun as much from a book as it did with Rosenberg’s Myth. Not because his writings were exceptionally profound, difficult to comprehend or emotionally overwhelming, but because Clemens hammered on my head with the book for minutes on end. (Clemens and Weser were the principal torturers of the Jews in Dresden, and they were generally differentiated as the Hitter and the Spitter.) ‘How dare a Jewish pig like you presume to read a book of this kind?’ Clemens yelled. To him it seemed like the desecration of a consecrated wafer. ‘How dare you have a book here from the lending library?’ Only the fact that the volume had demonstrably been borrowed in the name of my Aryan wife, and, moreover, that the sheet of notes which accompanied it was torn up without being deciphered, saved me at the time from the concentration camp.
    • The Language of the Third Reich (2002), p. 12.
  • No, the most powerful influence was exerted neither by individual speeches nor by articles or flyers, posters or flags; it was not achieved by things which one had to absorb by conscious thought or conscious emotions. Instead Nazism permeated the flesh and blood of the people through single words, idioms and sentence structures which were imposed on them in a million repetitions and taken on board mechanically and unconsciously. … Language does not simply write and think for me, it also increasingly dictates my feelings and governs my entire spiritual being the more unquestioningly and unconsciously I abandon myself to it. And what happens if the cultivated language is made up of poisonous elements or has been made the bearer of poisons? Words can be like tiny doses of arsenic: they are swallowed unnoticed, appear to have no effect, and then after a little time the toxic reaction sets in after all.
    • The Language of the Third Reich (2002), p. 15.
  • A confused state of mind, equally close to sickness and criminality, was for twelve years [of Nazi rule] held to be the greatest virtue.
    • The Language of the Third Reich (2002), p. 61.
  • But there is no vox populi, only voci populi.
    • The Language of the Third Reich (2002), p. 207.
  • On countless occasions during my spell as an assistant in Naples I heard people say about some newspaper or other: è pagato, it’s paid for, it lies for its client, and then on the following day these very same people who had cried pagato were absolutely convinced by some obviously bogus piece of news in the same paper. Because it was printed in such bold type, and because the other people believed it. … I also know that a part of every intellectual’s soul belongs to the people, that all my awareness of being lied to, and my critical attentiveness, are of no avail when it comes to it: at some point the printed lie will get the better of me when it attacks from all sides and is queried by fewer and fewer around me and finally by no one at all.
    • The Language of the Third Reich (2002), pp. 207-208.

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