A Week In Books

After 50 strong years, another W&N triumph
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George Weidenfeld and Nigel Nicolson returned this week to the same room in which they launched their firm on 10 November 1949. Lord Weidenfeld commented that both sides of that famous ampersand were romantics in their way; Nicolson inclined to "elegy", Weidenfeld himself to "ecstasy". And, he might have said, to the vision and audacity - chutzpah , if you like - that he shared with the generation of refugees from Fascism who re-made British publishing.

George Weidenfeld and Nigel Nicolson returned this week to the same room in which they launched their firm on 10 November 1949. Lord Weidenfeld commented that both sides of that famous ampersand were romantics in their way; Nicolson inclined to "elegy", Weidenfeld himself to "ecstasy". And, he might have said, to the vision and audacity - chutzpah , if you like - that he shared with the generation of refugees from Fascism who re-made British publishing.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson has kept faith with its origins in a stream of remarkable books on the Third Reich and its crimes. Astonishingly, this series began in 1949 with, not a victim's story, but the memoirs of Hitler's sly sidekick Hjalmar Schacht - the brilliant, slippery economist, acquitted at Nuremberg, who engineered German recovery.

Half a century on, the firm's latest major title counts the cost of the Nazi terror that the Teflon-coated Schacht did so much to underpin. The first volume of Victor Klemperer's diaries, I Shall Bear Witness , rightly won plaudits last year. Klemperer, a dry, fussy but deeply perceptive Jewish academic, survived the entire Third Reich in his home city of Dresden. Married to an "Aryan" wife, he was sacked, humiliated, evicted, bankrupted, beaten, bullied, starved and exploited, rather than just murdered. (However, only a set of hair's-breadth escapes stopped his deportation to the camps.) By 1945, he was one of only 198 Jews left alive in Dresden.

The second volume, To the Bitter End (£20), tells his extraordinary story up to June 1945. At its close, Victor and Eva - who had finally fled the bombed-out ruins of Dresden to Bavaria - make their way home across a war-ravaged spring landscape. Once again, one simply has to say that these diaries constitute one of the most vital historical and human documents of their age. Packed with vivid observation, profound reflection and an endearing, almost Pooter-ish pedantry, they find hope, dignity and even tart humour in the jaws of hell. Martin Chalmers has translated them beautifully. This is a great work, from a great publisher.

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