Eleanor Roosevelt vs. Victor Klemperer by mattsteinglass
May 13, 2010, 8:03 am
Filed under: Europe, History

Brad DeLong points us to Eleanor Roosevelt’s diary of May 13, 1940:

The news that Holland and Belgium had been invaded came over the radio on Friday morning, but I could not write about it that day. I had a curious sense of having lost the last vestige of hope that the imprint of civilization still made any dent on certain parts of the world. Just as I had feared, the “protection” turned again into aggression.

Dorothy Thompson’s column few days ago, in which she analyzed the psychological unpreparedness of democracies, as well as their physical unpreparedness, was very interesting to me. I think she is entirely right that the two go together. They mean that we, in the democracies, have prepared ourselves for a civilized, peaceful world, and we have almost forgotten that a bandit may turn up who does not understand our language nor hold to any of our beliefs. There is little use in looking backwards. We have to face the realities of the present, and move step by step along a twisting way hoping that we act in the best way for the preservation of our civilization.

Here’s a translation (from a Dutch translation) of Victor Klemperer’s diary entry for the same weekend.

Yesterday “at dawn”, May 10 (Georg’s 75th birthday), the attack on the Netherlands and Belgium began. The “counterattack”, of course, to “prevent the enemy’s penetration at the last moment.” The whole “presentation,” Hitler’s speech with his famous “thousand years,” the fact that he takes the leadership of the operation (!) upon himself, shows that now everything is being thrown into the game. If he does not win (or even if he draws), it means his downfall. In terms of historical philosophy, Montesquieu’s “Even if Caesar had not crossed the Rubicon, the republic would have fallen” is correct. Certainly—but then when did it fall? The playing-out of history demands more time than the private man has. And I fear Hitler’s aura of invincibility…

Amazing to think that it was possible for anti-Nazi Germans to hope, at the time, that Hitler’s promises of overwhelming victory might be bluffs, that the army might lose (in Holland or Belgium!) and cause his political defeat. Our political hopes lead us to delude ourselves.