The tide of fortune changed so markedly for Victor Klemperer after the end of World War II that this formerly persecuted Jewish professor of Romance Languages now found himself in demand, "besieged by neighbors and friends, acquaintances and strangers all wanting, justifiably or not, attestations confirming their innocence during the Third Reich." So writes Martin Chalmers, in his introduction to The Lesser Evil: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1945-59 (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, $40), which he has also translated from the German. In addition to dealing with opportunists, Klemperer was also casting about for a political party to back. Since post-war Germany lacked a radical left party, he chose the communists, who operated at the greatest possible distance from the Nazis. Or did they? Early on, Klemperer noticed similarities between the two parties' rhetoric. While still teaching in the 1950s, he confided to his diary, "All my lectures and seminars . . . are a desperate struggle for the freedom of the intellect." A year before his death in 1958, on a trip to China, he'd finally had enough. "It became clear to me that Communism is equally suited to pulling primitive peoples out of the primeval mud," he wrote, "and pushing civilized peoples back into the primeval mud."

-- Dennis Drabelle