Perhaps the most detailed account of life in Germany, and specifically Dresden, from 1933 onwards is in the mostly handwritten (centre) diaries of Victor Klemperer (top left and bottom right). A Professor of Romance Languages at the University of Dresden (centre right), Klemperer was a Jew married to Eva (bottom left), an Aryan. In his writing Klemperer demonstrates the importance of an almost daily record. He aspired to ‘become a writer of contemporary cultural history’. The diaries, which were published in Germany in 1995, cover the years 1933 to 1945 and bring together detailed
observation, linguistic mastery and an educated scepticism. These chronicles, with their mix of political acuity, domestic minutiae and unflinching self-reflection have become a standard source for historians of the period. The relationship between the Isakowitz family and the acclaimed diarist
was initially professional but developed into a close personal friendship. I understand significantly more about my grandparent’s and mother’s experience of this time from the diaries. As Lore, age 17, was about to take her school leaving certificate, this was Klemperer’s diary entry for Friday 10th March:
1933: 10th March, Friday
Hitler Chancellor. What, up to election Sunday on 5th March I called terror was a mild prelude. Now the business of 1918 is being exactly repeated, only under a different sign, under the swastika. Again, it’s astounding how easily everything collapses.
1933: 10th August, Thursday
Stepun sent me a Fräulein Isakowitz for vocational guidance. She took her school-leaving certificate at Easter, father a Jewish dentist. She would like to become an interpreter. How? The institute in Mannheim has been moved to Heidelberg, Gutkind removed – who knows where – non-Aryans are not admitted. She wants to try and study here for one or two semesters. Questionable if she’ll be allowed to.
1933: 9th November, Thursday
At the first lecture Monday, French Renaissance, five people, for the exercises, Renaissance lyric poetry, four, today at Corneille, two. These two: Lore Isakowitz, yellow Jewish card – really, she wants to be an interpreter, I have already been advising her for some time…
1934: 9th January, Tuesday
Since a week ago and for a long while to come much time lost, torment and expense because of dental treatment. I have unfortunately had to give up old Petri, upright but Aryan, to support Israel: Dr Isakowitz, father of my student Lore Isakowitz, who is sometimes his assistant.
1934: 2nd March, Friday evening
I wound up this bad semester on Wednesday. I took the penultimate Corneille class with the ‘Jewish quota’, that is, little Isakowitz, and the last one with her and a young man, who will now take his state examination with Wengler.
1934: 4th December, Tuesday
Eva (Klemperer’s wife) is feeling better, she is faring remarkably well with the lengthy dental treatment. These long journeys into town are almost a stimulation, she likes Isakowitz – I am always in the treatment room. (Dentist – housework, housework, housework – semester – is it any wonder that Voltaire is taking so long?)
1934: 30th December, Sunday
On the first day of the holiday we ate at the station in the evening, walked a little down the Prager Strasse and returned on the F bus, which, fortunately for us, has been running between Nausslitz and the Neustädtische railway station since 1st November. (So at least we no longer have the inordinate cost of the taxis.) – (Coming from the dentist, Isakowitz often takes us part of the way in his own car. We are usually there at half past twelve, Eva then has something light to eat in town, we perhaps do some shopping and then back for coffee. A regular arrangement, twice a week.)
1935: 9th January, Wednesday
So, from Easter I shall have no more students and have to retire, i.e. be reduced from 800M to 400. But even now I can hardly meet my obligations; the life insurance must remain unpaid, and when on earth Isakowitz will see his money is quite uncertain.
1935: 16th January, Wednesday Isakowitz – after the treatment it is by now usual for him to drive us in his car to the station, where Eva has a soup, today after the removal of her bridge fairly toothless -again expressed the mood of Jewry, and today, in fact, my own also.
1935: 22nd April, Easter Monday
Eva meanwhile has got trouble with her teeth again, new expeditions to Isakowitz have begun, there will be a new bill.
1935: 2nd May, Thursday
Lore Isakowitz also appeared and asked me for books – she now wants to get a qualification at the Department of Oriental Languages in Berlin – which I promised her for Tuesday.
1935: 11th June, Tuesday after Whitsun
After our meal on Sunday the Isakowitz’s picked us up in their handsome car and drove us to the Bastei……All three of the Isakowitz’s, father, daughter, mother, are very agreeable people; the wife is painted and done up like a Babylonian whore trying to hide her decline, but she has a quite simple and obliging nature…
1935: 30th June, Sunday afternoon
Through Annemarie Köhler’s intervention I very quickly came by an excellent typewriter. Isakowitz’s ‘Little Erika’ was a) a loan and b) not ideal.
1935: 11th August, Sunday
The three Isakowitzes were here once in the evening for coffee. He touchingly offered me money, if my pension should not arrive. He said his nerves were finished, and he is thinking of emigrating.
1935: 6th October, Sunday
It so happened that on two occasions in the last few weeks we were with the Isakowitzes twice in one day. Eva unexpectedly required a supplementary repair; in the evenings of the two days the three Isakowitzes were first of all our guests for coffee, the second time our hosts for supper, (which unfortunately demands a return match) and that on the Jewish New Year. It turned out that the Isakowitzes are more orthodox than we had realised; the man came from ‘temple’ (I have not heard the word for thirty years), his head covered he read from the Torah, a hat was put on my head too, candles burned. I found it quite painful. Where do I belong? To the ‘Jewish nation’ decrees Hitler. And I feel the Jewish nation recognised by Isakowitz is a comedy and am nothing but a German or German European. The mood on both evenings was one of extreme depression. Isakowitz fears that at any moment he will no longer be allowed to treat insured patients and thus be deprived of a living. He has been considering emigration to Palestine for some time. An Aryan has long wanted to buy his practice from him for 15,000M. He at last decides on this sale – with the heaviest of hearts, because in Palestine there is said to be at least one doctor in every house – when at the last moment such sales of Jewish practices are forbidden… His wife had gone to Berlin to make enquiries at the
‘Jewish town hall in Meineckestrasse’, i.e. the advice centre of the Zionists which now represents all German – Jewish interests. Mood of panic, crowds of people, broken windows from the last rampage, which are ostentatiously left unrepaired, strongly advised to emigrate, more and more people fleeing. At the service (the New Year celebration, the time of joy!) the rabbi’s words had been deeply depressing, he had spoken a prayer for the dead, there had been many tears…
1935: 19th October, Saturday
On the 8th we had the Wieghardts and the Isakowitzes for supper. He is now trying to find a living in England. His wife is there at the moment to make enquiries. We are prisoners without hope of rescue.
1935: 31st October, Thursday
On Sunday afternoon the three Isakowitzes were here. Frau Isakowitz was in London for a week; there is a possibility that her husband will be allowed to practice as a dentist in England without sitting an examination. She relates that the rabbis preached the boycott of German goods from the pulpit; they addressed the women: It is natural that your husbands do not order machines from Germany for their factories; but you must not buy any German Odol mouthwash or other toilet or domestic things! Her Christian landlady said to her with reference to Hitler: ‘And there is nobody who kills this big swine?’. People say we are ruled by madmen, are completely bankrupt – it cannot last much longer.
Postscripts to 1935, noted down on 1st January 1936
In the course of this year we won as new friends the Isakowitz family. That has turned into a really warm friendship with the father, mother and daughter. They will probably emigrate to England, and that would be a real loss for us.
1936: 11th February, Tuesday
Last Sunday the Isakowitzes were our guests in the evening. The man is much worn down by worry and uncertainty; despite his despair he told terribly smutty jokes, he himself said: ‘Out of despair’.
1936: 6th March
Isakowitz informed me by telephone that he has permission to practice in England and wants to leave in April. We shall soon be quite alone.
1936: 5th April, Sunday
Last Sunday the Isakowitzes, man and wife, were here, ready to depart for London, very nervous and low in spirit.
1936: 30th May, Saturday evening
The Isakowitzes’ farewell visit last Sunday was fairly depressing, and the leave-taking today at the station was very depressing. It was from the women; over Whitsun the family is staying with relatives in Landeck, while he is returning to his surgery for one more week, will also complete Eva’s treatment; mother and daughter are travelling to London via Berlin. The day before yesterday I fetched flowers, which have been left to us, from their liquidated apartment. A repetition of the Blumenfelds’ departure. Nothing has changed in the meantime; the power of the Third Reich has only grown ever larger and more secure.
1936: 12th June, Friday
Isakowitz was with us – for the last time – yesterday evening.
1936: 28th June, Sunday
Isakowitz finally took his leave of us on Thursday evening; he was very tired and nervous – a new tablecloth suffered the consequences; in a single movement he poured a whole cup of coffee over it – but nevertheless in high spirits. Because at 45 years of age he is once again making a new start, because he is moving from servitude and lawlessness to humane and civilised conditions. Yet it was visibly hard for him to leave Germany. He philosophised a great deal and talked about art, with somewhat limited knowledge and clarity, but with much interest and an evident moral foundation. I heard with satisfaction, that despite the ‘customs examination’, he has still managed to get some property safely abroad, and that other émigrés evidently also repeatedly find opportunities to do so.
1938: 12th July, Tuesday, Eva’s birthday
Frau Schaps writes of her children settling down in London and of contact made with Isakowitz the dentist. All these people have made new lives for themselves – but I have not succeeded in doing so, we have been left in disgrace and penury, in some degree buried alive, buried up to the neck so to speak and waiting from day to day for the last shovelfuls.