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Letter To A Friend


April 23, 1998

Subject: The Klemperer Diaries

You know, I still get the New Yorker at home and often leave some half-finished article or other open, on the coffee table for days on end, in the hopes that I will find time to finish it.

So it was, that I flipped past some New Yorker cartoons and spotted the Klemperer Diaries (April 27 & May 4). I read all the excerpts of the Nowojski translation in one sitting. I was glad of that because the meticulous little details of state-sponsored total horror in Hitler's Germany, those "thousand mosquito bites" Klemperer contrasted to the "big picture" of the global strategists, which were well and thoughtfully recorded under extraordinary circumstances. I was somewhat surprised to realize I was relieved I could not readily obtain the entire translation, and I wondered why.

But this is not a literary or historical critique. I figured that you had probably read the excerpts by now, or would shortly. In my entire tiny little universe, it somehow seems to me incredible that you are the only person I still know who I could be sure would read such an article, and read it with full comprehension. And that makes me lucky.

When I revisit such accountings I am always left a little bit numbed, and always feel there is really nothing else left that is important to talk about, and I never really can find anything enlightening or insightful to say which adds in any way to the body of knowledge about that which is left after horror.

And yet, we've shared some common thoughts and exchanges on a mankind almost perpetually at war with itself, so (even though you would never otherwise have known it) I am writing just to say "I read it. I <i>know.</i>"

And when the shock of recollection or indignation and comprehension fades a little bit, we start remembering that, yes, we do still have a life ahead of us to live, and then it is altogether too easy to say:

" Yes, and it is happening elsewhere even today, but we should ourselves probably continue to be lucky, and that will probably never happen to us (at least during our lifetimes), and we should not worry about it too much."

There is nothing at once so bone-bitingly trite, yet suicidal, as dismissal of this century's tens of millions of murders with a few thoughtful public-domain phrases. Mindful of Victor Klemperer's observation that the story is only fully experienced in enduring the thousand mosquito bite indignities and meannesses which go unrecorded alongside the visible deaths and incarcerations: the humanitarians' body counts are only the tip of the iceberg. Mankind's most fatal chill, which extinguishes entire species without leaving gigantic craters in the Earth's crust, lives on in the indifferences and studied rationalizations of the survivors.

© Alex Forbes, 1998


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