The Nazi Book Burnings

 The Nazi Book Burnings

Book burning in Berlin, May 1933.

Several years before the outbreak of the Second World War and worldwide recognition of the Nazi’s hatred of Jews, the Nazi party was already laying the groundwork. In 1933, new laws and edicts were being published at Universities through Germany to influence susceptible minds.

Called the 12 “theses,” the posted list included these basics:

  • Germans were to uphold German Folk traditions and close the disgraceful gap between literature and German culture.
  • Jews were a danger.  They lie, deceive and should not be allowed to write in German, or use German script.
  • There was a need to eradicate lies, all un-German writing, Jewish intellectualism and the liberal decay of the German spirit.
  • Monitoring was needed for the selection of students, professors.
  • All Germans should uphold traditions.

The German Student Association of Nazi Germany organized a day of “book burning.”  Using a list of blacklisted books compiled by Wolfgang Hermann, a German librarian in Berlin who deemed them all “harmful and undesirable,” they planned to ceremoniously throw the books into bonfires. All books by classical, liberal, socialist, pacifist, communist and Jewish authors were to be destroyed. These books were considered subversive and undermining to the National Socialist administration.

On May 10, 1933, students burned 25,000 books.  40,000 people gathered in Berlin to hear Joseph Goebbels speech which included the text:  “No, to decadence and moral corruption; yes, to decency and morality in family and state.  I consign to the flames the writings of Heinrich Mann, Ernst Glaser and Erich Kastner.”

Bonfires, ceremonious oaths, incantations and songs filled the night as a band played and books burned.  As written in other notices on University bulletin boards; “a literary purge and cleansing by fire will restore pure Volkische traditions.”

Authors, playwrights and poets whose books were burned that night were:

  • Libertarian Ludwig Von Mises
  • Socialists Bertolt Brecht, August Bebel
  • Communist Karl Marx
  • Playwright Arthur Schnitzler
  • Americans Ernest Hemmingway, Jack London, Helen Keller, H. G. Wells
  • Jewish Authors Franz Werfel, Max Brod, Stefan Zweig
  • 19th Century German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, whose prophetic line from his play Almansor, stated: “where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.”
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