Monday, March 27, 2017

The Best One Ever?

Not too long ago, my association held its latest Annual Conference. Like many other associations, our Annual Conference is a major event on our industry's calendar, with large segments of our membership turning out for education, networking, and, hopefully, a small, restorative break from their otherwise grueling day-to-day.

It was a great event. I know I'm biased, but I wasn't the only one who thought so. Numerous attendees came up and congratulated me during the conference, telling me how great they thought it was and what a good job I and my staff were doing. One person even told me that the conference was the best one ever.

The best one ever. I reflected a bit after thanking that person, and I realized that I've heard a similar comment from someone just about every single year. Gosh, Eric. You guys really outdid yourselves this time. This conference has been the best one ever.

I also realized that someone also tells me every year that the conference was one of the worst ones ever. The speakers were lousy. I didn't meet the people I wanted to meet. The pace of play was too slow during the golf tournament.

What does one do with such cognitive dissonance? Split the difference? Some love it, some hate it, so the truth must lie somewhere in between?

Generally what I do is pay attention to who is offering the comments. In this case, the people in the Best One Ever camp are widely varied. Over the years, it has been a different group of people providing this feedback each year. While the people in the Worst One Ever camp, have pretty consistently been the same three or four individuals.

What does that mean? Well, with a membership as diverse as mine, I think it means we're doing a pretty good job meeting the needs of most of our members, while admittedly not serving the needs of a small minority.

At least that's what we tell ourselves when we debrief and review all our evaluation data.

Are we wrong?

+ + +

This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Image Source

Monday, March 20, 2017

Boards and Annual Conference Venues

I've had two recent experiences that have made me think critically about an association board's role in selecting venues for their association's annual conference.

The first was as a volunteer board member, witnessing (and participating in) an unfocused and opinion-laden discussion about where the association in question should be taking its annual conference. All around the table, board member after board member, opining over which locations would be best or most convenient for them. As if that was the only thing that could spell success for the conference.

The second was as the association staff executive, trying to guide another board through a similar discussion. Only this association had done something different. Its board had already identified a set of KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, which were meant to be used to define what a successful Annual Conference looked like.

This association had previously said this: One of our key strategic priorities is to serve as an effective forum for our industry, as a place where all the relevant stakeholders can come together to find new business opportunities and advance their collective interests. Our Annual Conference is a primary mechanism for convening that forum and, as such, its success should be measured by ensuring that a certain minimum percentage of each membership category is represented at each event.

Except, for that second association, the fact that these previous decisions had taken place, the fact that success had already been defined in a way that could easily be measured, didn't seem to matter. What we heard, initially, was the same as the first association: board member after board member, opining over which locations would be best or most convenient for them.

Then I did something unexpected. I called them on it.

The reason we have these KPIs on the percentages of each membership type attending the Annual Conference is because that is what this board has decided is the thing that matters most. Therefore, any discussion we have about venues should start from that premise. Which venues will help us maximize the percentage of membership types attending the conference?

They pushed back. Wait a minute. That's not necessarily how we define success for the Annual Conference.

Oh yes it is, I said. By definition, the KPIs set by the board are the only way we define what success looks like for our organization. If you want to talk about improving the venues for Annual Conference, you have to do that in the context of the KPIs. If you think the KPIs are wrong, then we can revisit them, but realize that is no longer a discussion about Annual Conference venues.

It was, I think, a pivotal moment in the on-going evolution of the strategic thinking that goes on in my association's leadership. The job of the Board lies not in picking venues for our Annual Conference, but in deciding the metrics by which the conference's success will be judged.

In other words, give staff the metric and we'll pick the venues that can best achieve it.

+ + +

This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Image Source

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Good Faith by Jane Smiley

This one was a headscratcher. Look at the cover. What gender would you guess the novel’s protagonist is?


Joe Stratford makes an honest living helping nice people buy and sell nice houses. It’s 1982 and Marcus Burns, Joe’s new friend from New York, says the old rules are ready to be broken. But are his ideas about how to get rich too big and risky for Joe? And is Felicity--winning, free-spirited (and already married)--really the one he’s been waiting for?

That’s from the blurb on the back cover. But Joe Stratford is an odd kind of man. He is our first-person narrator, so everything we read is the dialogue that’s happening in his head. And there he thinks about “making love” to women, about the “espadrilles” some of them wear on their feet, and the “Cole of California” bathing suits others of them don at pool parties. Odd word choices like these, obviously and easily tripping off the top of the female author’s head, occur with surprising frequency.

But the problems go much deeper than that. Joe and Marcus, and most of the other men in this novel, spend a tremendous amount of time thinking, but more revealingly, talking and talking and talking about their relationships with women.

When Marcus heard I was taking Susan Webster to a movie, he came into my office and leaned against the edge of a table I had beside the window. He crossed his arms over his chest and grinned at me. “She called Linda, you know. She called--before you ever called her--and said you were cute.”

“I am cute. They’ve been saying I am cute for years. Cute but untrustworthy. Skittish. It’s a good thing Susan Webster was living in Spain for ten years, because maybe she doesn’t realize what a known quantity I am in these parts.” Was this true? I hadn’t thought of it before, but it seemed true as I said it. “And there’s a whole group of Sherry’s friends who have really got my number.”

“But I’m telling you--I’ve been telling you all along--no man is a hero in his own hometown. This is a turning point for you. This girl is a really unusual combination of sophistication and sweetness. It’s like she turned twenty and then got put away for ten years. She’s behind the times, but she knows lots of things. She’s a prize.”

“I’m not disagreeing with you, Marcus. But what about the humble shortcomings of yours truly?”

“That’s the beauty part. She tried the exotic and it was wrong. She tried someone her own age, and it didn’t work out. Now she’s looking for something homegrown and more mature.”

“We’ll see. We haven’t even gone out. I’ve never been alone with her.”

“I don’t know that you should be alone with her. You know, arranged marriages in Japan and places like that work out fine. Just as well as American marriages, in general, or better. It’s a marriage, for God’s sake! It’s a formal arrangement for which there are numerous models. It’s like any other contract. You follow the rules, and it works well enough.”

I thought of Mary King.

“And the difference between well enough and great isn’t very much, in the end. When kids come along, they take so much of your attention, you can’t really tell the difference, and when they’re gone you have to start over anyway. I think myself that people take all of this much too seriously. Life is too short. That’s what rules are for, so you don’t have to reinvent everything.”

“Easy for you to talk.”

“Do you doubt what I’m saying? You know, I do want to meet your parents, because they must be really good parents or you wouldn’t have such a romantic idea about marriage at this point in your life.”

“My parents are the perfect example of the idea that you can live up to your ideals every single day of your life, absolutely follow the book, and still get the wrong child.”

He laughed. Then he looked at me and laughed again. He said, “Well, look at Jane and me and my sisters. My parents broke every rule in the book and got four bonus babies--no drunks, no shirkers, no ne’er-do-wells.” He shook his head.

I said, “Jane said you have a brother.”

His grin vanished and he stared at me, then broke his gaze and said, “Sorry. Yes, of course we do. I’ve pretended for so long that he’s just another one of my father’s brothers that I let myself forget about him. He was a scary one. Animal torturer and all. Jane says he wasn’t that bad, but he was frightening to me.” Marcus sighed. “I was so glad Amanda was a girl. And then I was even gladder that Justin was a sweet-natured kid. Still is. Anyway--”

“Anyway, if I follow the marital rules, everything will be fine.”

“As long as you make a rational choice, and, provisionally, Susan Webster looks like a rational choice. I also don’t hold with deciding yes or no early on. Some people, they go out with someone once and they already know whether they’re going to marry that person or not. Very dumb. Not only are you likely to say yes unwisely, you’re even more likely to exclude good candidates before you’ve really gotten to know them. So I’m not urging you to decide prematurely--just to recognize that, for now, Susan Webster looks very good.” And then the phone rang and Marcus left and it was Betty calling.

And on and on and on. The pages keep turning but very little happens other than this eternal dialogue about who is and isn’t good enough. These are not men. These are women--and maybe they were women in the novel’s first draft. My god, in one scene Smiley even has Joe turning on his [high?] heel and stomping out of the room.

It was all too distracting for me to enjoy anything else about the novel.

+ + +

This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, March 13, 2017

Success Happens at the Arrows

My association has been working on the workforce challenge facing the industry we represent for longer than the ten years that I've been its chief staff executive. In all that time, we have invested a lot of time and money in programs designed either to bring awareness about our industry to young people, or to educate students at various education levels in the knowledge and skill sets relevant to it.

Recently, we've started connecting several of these awareness and education programs into discrete workforce development pathways. Students in our high school programs, for example, are encouraged to continue their education in one of the tech school programs we support, and then to move into a position at one of the companies in our industry.

That's not rocket science. Once the programs were in place, it only seemed logical to connect them in such a fashion. The end goal, after all, is neither educating high school students nor employing tech school instructors, but to produce educated employees for our member companies. But it wasn't until we started constructing these pathways, and more specifically, started drawing them as flowcharts in our strategy agenda materials, that a critical understanding occurred.

Success happens not at the flowchart boxes, each representing one of the programs in the chain, but at the arrows that connect them. Educating students is an important part of the process, but what matters most is moving students from one program to the next. In this example, from high school to tech school and then into a job.

It's difficult to exaggerate the importance of this insight. Only after it was made, I think, were we able to look back on the decade or more of activity that we have been engaged in and realize that we have probably been measuring the wrong thing.

Growing the number of high school students we educate seems critical as long the justification we have for that activity is a strategic objective that aims to increase the number of high school students who know about our industry. Once we realized that the metric that matters is not how many high school students we teach, but how many we teach that then go on to study our technology in tech school with the intent of making a career out of it -- only then did we begin to realize how useful all those years of activity might have actually been.

That’s currently where we are on this long journey. We're beginning the difficult work of understanding not just what's happening in the boxes of our flowcharted strategy, but what's happening at the arrows. We fully expect that analysis will produce a different evaluation of our success than the one we have been using.

+ + +

This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Image Source

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Song Remains the Same

I recently attended my association's Annual Conference. As any association professional knows, that means several weeks of focused attention on what feels like an infinite number of details. One of many for me, given my position in my organization, was preparing for the remarks I'd give from the podium.

It happens during our Annual Business Meeting. The time when our treasurer gives the financial report and our chair conducts the election for a new board of directors for the upcoming year. My report, as the chief staff executive, is focused on our strategy agenda and its supporting activities. What outcomes is our association seeking to achieve, and what have we done over the past year to accomplish them?

Typically, my first step in preparing this presentation is to pull up last year's presentation and see how much has changed. That can sometimes be a surprising experience, as one realizes that new initiatives discussed last year haven't progressed as much as one would have liked or, worse, haven't gone anywhere at all. More than once, in my years of doing this, I've been disappointed to see that major strategy areas, discussed and presented to the membership in one year, are all but unrecognizable in the next.

But not this year. This year, I'm somewhat proud to say, our core strategy has survived largely unchanged. The only things that needed updating were the details of some of our programmatic activities. Higher membership numbers, a new market information program, more outreach and education to young people and students. What we're doing has seen some positive improvements, but why we're doing them can still be described in the same basic language.

And that is a good thing. Not just because it makes presentation writing and rehearsing easier, but because it means that we are building a sense of strategic consistency with our board and our members.

Strategy that changes too frequently, I think, can reflect a lack of commitment among an association's leadership. A bunch of new strategic objectives each year generally indicates a leadership group that is not unified or clear on what success looks like in their environment.

And there's no better way to convey a sense of floundering to the membership than by trying to "turn the battleship" each and every year.

Far better, I think, to have a clear and consistent message. Here's what we're trying to do for you. It's simple and understandable, and it's largely the same thing we told you last year. We meant it then and we mean it now.

It was a very good conference.

+ + +

This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Image Source

Saturday, March 4, 2017

I Will Bear Witness by Victor Klemperer

Who is Victor Klemperer?

Victor Klemperer risked his life to preserve these diaries so that he could, as he wrote, “bear witness” to the gathering horror of the Nazi regime. The son of a Berlin rabbi, Klemperer was a German patriot who served with honor during the First World War, married a gentile, and converted to Protestantism. He was a professor of Romance languages at the Dresden Technical Institute, a fine scholar and writer, and an intellectual of a somewhat conservative disposition. Unlike many of his Jewish friends and academic colleagues, he feared Hitler from the start, and thought he felt little allegiance to any religion, under Nazi law he was a Jew.

This is actually the second of a two-volume edition of Klemperer’s diary. The first volume, covering 1933 to 1941, I read many years ago (2003, by my reckoning), where…

Klemperer’s life is not yet in danger, but he loses his professorship, his house, even his typewriter; he is not allowed to drive, and since Jews are forbidden to own pets, he must put his cat to death. Because of his military record and marriage to a “full-blooded Aryan,” he is spared deportation, but nevertheless, Klemperer has to wear the yellow Jewish star, and he and his wife, Eva, are subjected to the ever-increasing escalation of Nazi tyranny.

The ever-increasing escalation of Nazi tyranny. That is part of what makes this diary so compelling and so tragic. In his nearly daily recordings, Klemperer indeed allows his reader to bear witness to the often incremental and always humiliating depredations he is compelled to suffer--all of it tinged with the fearful understanding that, unlike the reader, Klemperer has no idea how far things are going to go and how the story is going to end.

Here’s an early and illustrative example. It is February 1942.

At six o’clock a messenger came from the Jewish Community; I had to report at eight o’clock tomorrow morning, in Räcknitz, to shovel snow. That is exactly the work at which my heart protests after five minutes. It is to last “until the early afternoon.” I also lack boots with good soles. It was too late for any kind of objection or any attempt to procure boots. I have to accept it. I can do no more than die.

Remember, Klemperer is a college professor, and he is 60 years old. And when it comes to clearing snow, he is not the only one so compelled.

Yesterday, February 14, the first day clearing snow, from eight till two, but this coming week it will probably last from eight or half past eight until five o’clock, plus a march of one hour there and one hour back. Yesterday left after seven o’clock in the gray of dawn, almost darkness, with Dr. Friedheim. Snow covered streets unrecognizable. Toward Zschertnitz, past the old brickworks, then straight past the Moreau monument as far as the Elysium, a large inn just at the beginning of Langemarckstrasse, formerly Bergstrasse, in Räcknitz. On the way Dr. Friedheim fell twice, once very heavily; later he produced a certificate from Dr. Rostoski: gallbladder, liver, hernia, diabetes...went home. A pitiful group assembled in the house entry. One rupture without rupture belt, one cripple, one hunchback...Seventeen “older” men should have come, two had not turned up, three were sent away, of the remaining twelve several were over seventy, I at sixty literally the youngest. I considered whether I should go to the medical assessor immediately. A man in uniform (municipal street-cleaning department) arrived in a van with tools, took a kind of roll call. Very polite. He advised me: “Try it first, you could get into trouble otherwise.” We shouldered shovel and other tools and first marches to the “Little Toll House.” There a delivery van was struggling at the entry to the Südhöhe road. We got it free, widened the roadway. As I was shoveling here, I was aware of my heart.

One of the elderly men in the snow detail with Klemperer is a doctor.

I became friendly with a doctor working beside me, Dr. Magnus, orthopedist and surgeon, 67, but much stronger and younger than I. Sportsman, horseman, well prepared. He had a supply of coarse mittens and gave me a pair. He asked about my health problems. “Pains from the chest down to my left wrist.” -- “Typical symptoms of angina.” -- It was a blow, nevertheless, to be told so bluntly what I had long known and did not want to know. Angina sounds different from “nervous heart.”

The work is dangerous.

The work is interrupted: “Look out!” and we press up against the wall of snow. I always find it frightening when the heavy long-distance buses with snow chains around their huge wheels roll past a few inches away; they could so easily slide to the side. One with a protruding metal triangle as a plow.

And when it is done, what does Klemperer think of it all?

The Sunday is gone--what have I achieved? Washed myself down [...] brushed potatoes, this diary entry, read aloud a few lines of Ben-Hur, the end of which is very disappointing [...]; a so-far vain attempt to make notes on Levin. And now five quite merciless snow-clearing days lie before me. It keeps on snowing. … Curriculum completely put aside.

How frustrating and humiliating it must have been. The man is a scholar. His proper work is subsumed by the books he should be reading and the curricula he should be writing. But now he is forced--yes, forced, under threat and penalty of death, to clear snow with the other old men too Jewish to be trusted with any other role in their society.

A few months later, in June 1942, in a fit of frustration, Klemperer decided to list all the bans he has been subjected to since the beginning of the Nazi regime.

The choker is being pulled ever tighter; they are wearing us down with ever new tricks. All the things, great and small, that have accumulated in the last few years! And a pinprick is sometimes more agonizing than a blow with a club. I shall list the decrees once and for all: 1) To be home after eight or nine in the evening. Inspection! 2) Expelled from one’s own house. 3) Ban on radio, ban on telephone. 4) Ban on theaters, cinemas, concerts, museums. 5) Ban on subscribing to or purchasing periodicals. 6) Ban on using public transport: three phases: a) buses banned, only front platform of tram permitted, b) all use banned, except to work, c) to work on foot, unless one lives 2½ miles away or is sick (but it is a hard fight to get a doctor’s certificate). Also ban on taxicabs, of course. 7) Ban on purchasing “goods in short supply.” 8) Ban on purchasing cigars or any kind of smoking materials. 9) Ban on purchasing flowers. 10) Withdrawal of milk ration card. 11) Ban on going to the barber. 12) Any kind of tradesman can be called only after application to the Community. 13) Compulsory surrender of typewriters, 14) of furs and woolen blankets, 15) of bicycles--it is permissible to cycle to work (Sunday outings and visits by bicycle are forbidden), 16) of deck chairs, 17) of dogs, cats, birds. 18) Ban on leaving the city of Dresden, 19) on entering the railway station, 20) on setting foot on the Ministry embankment, in parks, 21) on using Bürgerwiese [street] and the roads bordering the Great Garden (Parkstrasse, Lennéstrasse, and Karcherallee). This most recent restriction since only yesterday. Also, since the day before yesterday, a ban on entering the market halls. 22) Since September 19 [last year] the Jew’s star. 23) Ban on having reserves of foodstuffs at home. (Gestapo also takes away what had been bought on food coupons.) 24) Ban on use of lending libraries. 25) Because of the star all restaurants are closed to us. And in the restaurants one can still get something to eat, some “dish of the day.” if one has nothing at all left at home. Eva says the restaurants are packed. 26) No clothing card. 27) No fish card. 28) No special rations such as coffee, chocolate, fruit, condensed milk. 29) The special taxes. 30) The constantly contracting disposable allowance. Mine at first 600, then 320, now 185 marks. 31) Shopping restricted to one hour (three till four, Saturday twelve till one). I think these 31 points are everything. But all together they are nothing as against the constant threat of house searches, of ill-treatment, of prison, concentration camp, and violent death.

Can you imagine? Can you even imagine living under these circumstances? Skip over Klemperer’s last sentence for a moment. Just look at the 31 points. They are all clearly designed to keep the Jews out of sight. Off the streets, out of the stores, off the public transportation. Just shuttered up inside their homes with no food to eat and nothing to do.

Nothing to do except be afraid. From August 1942:

During these last few months I have learned again and again: Jewish religion, the “law,” the many hundreds of prescriptions that bind a Jew at every hour of the day, even when carrying out the least act, to his religion and remind him of God, has existed since the prophet Ezra. The Gestapo is like Ezra. I should like, for once, to lay down the timetable of an ordinary day (without anything exceptional like a murder or a suicide or a house search). On waking up: Will “they” come today? (There are days that are dangerous and days that are not--e.g., Friday is very dangerous, then “they” presume purchases have already been made for Sunday.) While washing, showering, shaving: Where to put the soap if “they” come now. Then breakfast: taking everything out of its hiding place, carrying it back to its hiding place. Then doing without a cigar; fear while smoking a pipe [filled with blackberry tea leaves], for which one doesn’t go to prison but does earn blows. Doing without a newspaper. Then the postwoman ringing the bell. Is it the postwoman, or is it “them”? And what will the postwoman bring? Then my hours of work. A diary can be fatal; book from the lending library earns blows, manuscripts are torn up. Every few minutes a car goes past. Is it “them”? To the window every time, the kitchen window is at the front, the workroom at the back. Someone or other will certainly ring the doorbell at least once in the morning, at least once in the afternoon. Is it “them”? Then shopping. One suspects “them” in every car, on every bicycle, in every pedestrian. (I have been abused often enough.) It occurs to me that I have just now been carrying my briefcase under my left arm--perhaps the star was concealed, perhaps someone has denounced me. As the husband of an Aryan I do, nevertheless, not have quite as much to fear as the others when I am shopping. If Frau Kreidl gets back a couple of small coupons without a J, when she had handed over a big Jewish coupon (which cannot be avoided), then she sticks the “Aryan” ones inside the lining of her handbag, because it is forbidden to have Aryan coupons. Also Frau Kreidl is always carrying some scarce commodity that someone has slipped her. In these respects, too, I am a little safer. Then I have to call on someone. Question on the way there: Will I be caught up in a house search when I get there? Question on the way home: Have “they” been to our house meanwhile, or are “they” there even now? Agony, when a car stops close by. Is it “them”? Then the hiding place business again, as at morning and midday. (On my visit, talk was of course only and exclusively of the most recent distressing cases.) A little calmer toward nine o’clock in the evening. Now there is at most the policeman making his inspection. He is courteous, he is not Gestapo. Last thought on going to sleep: I usually sleep without dreaming, now I shall have peace until tomorrow morning. But recently I dreamed, nevertheless: I was to be hanged in a prison cell. I had execution dreams as a very young person. Not since then. In those days it was probably puberty; now it is the Gestapo.

The fear is overwhelming. Klemperer makes it come palpably off the page, and it is easy to understand that his writing about it is a conscious strategy he employed in an attempt to dissipate it just enough to make it bearable.

Sometimes, however, it hits shockingly close to home. From August 1943:

Since Saturday afternoon I’m facing death. Card from the Gestapo: “Requested to appear at 16 Bismarckstrasse, third floor, Room 68, at 7:30 A.M. on Monday, August 2, 1943. Concerning: Questioning. With reference to goods in storage. Transport and Warehousing Ltd.” Yesterday I talked to Jacobi and Steinitz: The fact that they give a reason for the “questioning,” as well as Room 68, makes it likely that the danger is small. But nothing can be said for certain, and few of those “questioned” have come home again. Perhaps they want only my furniture, perhaps my life. I have so far successfully managed to maintain my composure. I have worked hard and put creature fear aside. [...] We also had visitors, Glaser in the morning, Lewinsky in the afternoon. I said nothing to either about what was impending.

Perhaps this is my last entry, perhaps everything I have worked at over these years is lost.

I do not intend to take sentimental leave of Eva. We know what we feel for each other. I hope I shall maintain my composure to the end. Before Eva, before the Gestapo, before the gallows. A pity that I lack belief in a life to come; I find it so hard to part from Eva. She herself is stoical again, but I know that her life, too, is at stake.

This, thankfully, is not his last entry. The matter was minor and quickly resolved. But imagine if it had been. Imagine if this remarkable document ended with those words and those sentiments. It is again a reminder that Klemperer, as he scratches these words out with his pen, has no idea what will happen next, and that every entry he makes could, in a very real sense, be his last.

One fascination I had with the text was trying to determine exactly when Klemperer realized that the people being taken off to the concentration camps were being deliberately killed there. He writes of friends and neighbors being taken off, and of news being received of their deaths, but at first, it almost seems as if he believes--or wants to believe--that their demises are the result of some unfortunate accident. Fallen ill. Slipped and fell. Even shot while trying to escape. Even that more acceptable than the reality of their intentional extermination. But eventually it becomes clear that he fully understands what the Nazis are doing to the Jews.

Klemperer also experiences a wide variety of reactions from his fellow Germans as he makes his difficult way through the Nazi regime. Many, perhaps surprisingly to the modern reader, express impotent sympathy. From July 1943:

On Sunday afternoon as I was coming from the cemetery, an elderly gentleman--white goatee, about seventy, retired senior civil servant--crossed Lothringer Strasse toward me, held out his hand, and said with a certain solemnity: “I saw your star and I greet you; I condemn this outlawing of a race, as do many others.” I: “Very kind--but you must not talk to me, it can cost me my life and put you in prison.” -- Yes, but he wanted to say it and he had to say it to me. -- The chorus of voices of the people. Which voice dominates and will be decisive?

And others cover Klemperer with their hostile hatred. He is also frequently accosted on the street, mostly by young men and boys, who tar him with slurs, proclaim him to be the source of all their troubles, and threaten him with future extermination at the hands of the Reich.

It is easy to sympathize with Klemperer, to feel the outrage and anger that he, above all, was unable to express anywhere but in his diary. And it is there, finally, where we find him confronting a real and aching guilt, the guilt of the correspondent, who documents the suffering of himself and others, and who puts others at greater risk in doing so. From September 1944:

My diaries and my notes! I tell myself again and again: They will not only cost me my life, if they are discovered, but also Eva’s and that of several others, whom I have mentioned by name, had to mention if I wanted them to have documentary worth. Am I entitled, perhaps even obliged, to do so, or is it criminal vanity? And again and again: I have published nothing for twelve years, been unable to complete anything, have done nothing but record and record. Is there any point to it, will any of it be completed? The English, the Gestapo, the angina, my sixty-three years. And if it is completed, and if it is successful, and if I “survive through my work”--what is the point of it all for me? I have so little talent for faith, in fact none at all; of all possibilities nothingness appears to me, as far as the individual personality is concerned, and that is all that counts, because what do I care about the “universe” or the “nation” or anything else that is not I myself?--nothingness appears to me the most likely. And I recoil from that alone, not from the “eternal judge,” in whatever shape. But I am writing all this down (which goes through my head every day, several times a day) only because I do not want to send away an empty page. And immediately afterward I shall go on working, i.e., reading and taking notes. Not because I am so full of energy, but because I am unable to do anything better with my time.

There is a lot I recognize here. There is no point, but he keeps on working, because there is, of course, a point. Through the work, he lives. Not in the completed future (although it can be said that Klemperer lives there, too) but in the tortured present. Without the work, he would not survive. And despite the frustration that comes across above, Klemperer actually know this. From December 1944:

I am incapable of somehow becoming reconciled to the thought of death; religious and philosophical consolations are completely denied me. It is solely a matter of maintaining one’s dignity until the very end. … The best means for that is immersion in study, to behave as if the accumulation of material had a real purpose.

At once depressing and uplifting. His work--meaningless in the context of suffering, yet immersive for him and transcendent for us. It is a remarkable product of a remarkable mind.

+ + +

This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at