Newly published diaries by a Nazi-era court official document details that others conveniently ignored. While many Germans would later claim they knew nothing of Nazi crimes, Friedrich Kellner’s critical observations show that such information was available.

The penultimate year of the war began with a speech exhorting Germans to persevere. Italy was no longer Germany’s ally, and the Soviet army was approaching the borders of Poland, Hungary and Romania. The Allied landing in France was imminent. After addressing soldiers and his fellow Germans, Adolf Hitler turned his attention to the Lord himself in his speech to ring in the New Year of 1944. “He is aware of the goal of our struggle,” he said. The Lord’s “justice will continue to test us until he can pass judgment. Our duty is to ensure that we do not appear to be too weak in his eyes, but that we are given a merciful judgment that spells ‘victory’ and thus signifies life!”
Two very different men in the German Reich noted their thoughts about Hitler’s expression of religious sentiments in their diaries. The first, Victor Klemperer, lived with his wife in a “Jew house” in Dresden, where he wrote about the dictator, using a false name: “New content: Karl becomes religious. (The new approach lies in his approximation of the ecclesiastical style.).”
The second, Friedrich Kellner, lived with his wife in an official apartment in a court building for the Hessian town of Laubach, where he hid his written account of the war in a living-room cabinet. In his commentary on the Hitler speech, Kellner wrote: “The Lord, who has been maligned by all National Socialists as part of their official policy, is now being implored by the Führer in his hour of need. What strange hypocrisy!”
The extensive diary written by Klemperer, a professor of Romance Literature who had been fired from his job in Dresden, was published in 1995 under the title “Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten” (“I Will Bear Witness 1942-1945: A Diary of the Nazi Years”). It is perhaps the most important private document about the Nazis, because it offers an extremely clear-sighted and detailed account of the 12 years of the “Thousand-year Reich” from the perspective of someone who was marginalized. The account details small annoyances and major crimes, daily life and the development of Nazi propaganda.
This document now has a counterpart, the diaries of judicial inspector Friedrich Kellner. The 900-page book begins in September 1938, told from the perspective of a German citizen who was not a Nazi. It also reveals what information Germans could have obtained about the Nazis if they had wanted to.