While we’re on Klemperer, I’d like to add a digression on the birth announcement of my mother, which appeared in January 1943. It read something like
“With the most profound joy we would like to announce the birth of our daughter Brünnhilde. May she give birth to many courageous warriors. Munich, The Brown House.”
The announcement had a thick black edge, and was set in fat Gothic type.
A few details beg to be annotated. My mother gave birth to four girls, none of which turned out to be warriors, an irony never lost on my mother. “The Brown House” was in fact the NSDAP (Nazi) party headquarters Munich, in which my grandfather had been employed until the end of 1942, reporting up to Martin Bormann, Hitler’s much-despised second-in-command. His fiefdom was however more mundane than the address or his direct report suggested. He was in charge of village culture, with a particular focus on decreasing participation in church choirs to the benefit of patriotic singing circles. It took me several years to weasel out this fact; a fact that gave me some relief, since this time had been unaccounted for, and 1942 being a particularly dark year among dark years.
What had always irked my mother about her birth announcement, beyond the fake-Teutonic spelling of Brunhilde, was that the language and presentation was that of a funeral announcement. Let’s turn to Klemperer.
I have already mentioned the persecution and suffering of the Klemperers. But what I love about Victor Klemperer is that he did not stop working, even though there was no outlet for his writing. As a philologist he turned to analyze the language all around him, the language of the Third Reich, resulting in the masterpiece LTI (Lingua Tertii Imperii). LTI is a cold-blooded analysis of the ‘new speak’ of the Nazi propagandists, a heavily clichéd language that infected not only speeches and announcements but newspaper reporting and everyday speech. It allowed Klemperer to keep a perspective beyond victimhood, as outside observer of the lunacy and self-delusions of the era.
In the chapter “Familiananzeigen als kleines Repetitorium der LTI” (family announcements as small instances of repetition of the LTI) Klemperer proves through examples that birth announcements unthinkingly began to mirror the language and appearance of death announcements. This as a results of the pages and pages of death announcements in the papers, in which any kind of good news must have seemed almost sacrilegious, and requiring tempering.
LTI is an extraordinary book. Seething, sarcastic yet disciplined and thorough, it is an amazing product of scholarship under adverse circumstances. It is a fascinating read.