Klemperer – Ein Leben in Deutschland – A Life in Germany (1999) German TV Mini-Series

When Klemperer was first aired on German TV, I watched the first episodes but because I was moving I had to stop after the fourth. I always meant to re-watch the beginning and finally finish the whole series which consists of 12 episodes.

I had really liked the beginning at the time and now that I have finally re-watched those first four episodes I’m glad I still like it, maybe even more and I’m keen on watching the rest. However it’s very depressing. I didn’t remember it to be this upsetting but maybe it’s just me and I’m in a funny mood.

The series is based on Viktor Klemperer’s war diaries, 8 volumes of several thousand pages (here in English Viktor Klemperer’s diaries and in German here). The diaries are a fascinating document. I’ve read the first and it’s breathtaking. Klemperer was a professor of French literature, highly intelligent and with an amazing knowledge which all goes into the diary. He was also Jewish. The amazing thing in the series and the diary is the fact that it shows a man who is incapable of seeing what is going on and that we witness an amazingly intelligent person’s blindness. I find it must have taken a lot of guts to publish this diary because while it is very human it is still such an incredible flaw to be this blind.

To watch the series is eerie. It starts in 1933, just after Hitler was elected. At first there are just a few warning signals. Klemperer isn’t allowed to test non-Jewish students anymore, later he will not be able to publish anymore, they will remove him from certain classes and finally he will be fired. While many of his friends leave Germany very early, he doesn’t want to leave, he always thinks that maybe he will be exempt from the next measures only to find out that he wasn’t. His wife is not Jewish and since he himself isn’t religious, he always thinks they will make an exception for him. They even start to build a house.

Klemperer’s wife is an amazing character as well as she is so flawed and naive. She still moans about not being able to go on holidays when he has already been fired because he is Jewish.

As I already mentioned, the series is quite long. There are 12 parts of 45 minutes each, which means they have taken a lot of time to show the whole story and include a lot of details. I already know that the Klemperers will end up being sent to a camp but survive. Because it spans such a long time, 1933 – 1945, it really feels at times like having been there, having experienced some of it.  It is one of the best TV series I’ve ever seen. It has been very carefully executed and with Matthias Habich and Dagmar Wenzel, they have chosen two of the best German actors. Habich is one of my favourites, and one of the rare I like almost as much as Bruno Ganz.

A far as I know, there is no version with English subtitles available which is a pity. At least the diary is available in English too.

6 thoughts on “Klemperer – Ein Leben in Deutschland – A Life in Germany (1999) German TV Mini-Series

  1. nem baj says:

    Nice pick. It should be upsetting, but I wouldn’t call it blindness. It’s as if the world was slowly shrinking, bit by bit, until nothing is left.

    A similar phenomenon is described for instance in Polanski’s movie The Pianist, or in Romanian writer Mihail Sebastian’s Journal of the Fascist Years. And Losey’s movie Mr. Klein also hints at this (with a twist).

    Klemperer’s Lingua Tertii Imperii, which owes a lot to the diaries, is a very powerful book as well.

    • I find the much less blind in The Pianist. Or maybe he is not blind but a bit arrogant. He thinsk for a long time tat he is superior and that that will save him.
      I know that there were a lot of linguistic observations in the diary. The whole Verdeutschung amused and shocked him equally.
      I’m going to write a second post once I have finished. I don’t find his blindness upsetting but to see how the Nazi madness unfolds slowly, daily.

  2. the war movie buff says:

    I can’t imagine seeing this although your review makes it seem interesting. (I would definitely watch it if it was the story of Werner Klemperer – look him up)

    I tell my classes that many Jews did not read the obvious signs that a shit storm was coming because they had been through persecutions through the centuries and felt this one would be similar and would eventually blow over. Also, they were loyal German citizens and obeyed the laws. Hitler did not invent anti-semitism.

    • I’m pretty sure you would like this. You would probably also like the diary.
      I think there were many reasons why he didn’t see it coming, the biggest because he was so assimilated. He didn’t feel Jewish, wasn’t religious… He thought “nothing can happen to me”. Plus his wife was not Jewish, she didn’t want to leave.

  3. the war movie buff says:

    Are you suggesting I read some more Holocaust literature? Are you trying to get me to jump off a cliff?

    • No, not at all, it’s very different. I’s just amazing how detailed it is, the parts on language are so interesting, you know that the Nazis renamed so many thinks like “radio”, “tomato” foreign words that were used in German and are used again and they “germanized” them. the results are often hilarious. I have a feeling you would enjoy this. He made a lot of fun of the Nazi’s stupidity.

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