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
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
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