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80 years since the Nazi book burnings

80 years since the Nazi book burnings
​Book lovers abound. Theirs is a passionate love, sometimes bordering on zealotry. It should come as no surprise then, that there have always been those who despise certain books with equal intensity. Why this is so is often, though not exclusively, the result of objection to the content of certain books. Books are vehicles of ideas and perceptions and hence can come into conflict with the accepted norms of a particular society
​In the past five centuries, since the invention of the printing press, efforts to censor books, or prevent their publication, have also abounded. The most extreme form of censorship has been the destruction of books, usually by way of burning.
 
In the early modern period books were even tried much like any other accused criminal. If found guilty, they were often sentenced to death. In many cases the "execution" of a book was a substitute for execution of its author, who escaped the vitriol of hatred by refraining from signing the work and hence staying out of the reach of the law and authorities.
 
80 years since the Nazi book burningsIt was often the most persecuted, oft-burned books that broke new ground for human civilization. Religious officials persecuted certain books in order to prevent the inculcation of new ideas, ones with the power to change how people thought and weaken the control of the religious establishment over them. This was the fate of the books of Christian and Jewish Enlightenments in the latter half of the 18th century. Both were anathema to religious establishment leaders. The burning of books was common then, as it was centuries beforehand. Even today, this phenomenon has not disappeared.
 
Indeed, books are still burned at the stake, most of them religious texts belonging to other faiths, religions whose texts are considered threatening to the religions of those who do the burning, who regard themselves as armed with the fire of religious justice.
 
On 10 may, 1933, a particularly barbaric book burning took place at Opera Square in Berlin. Nazi students raided the public libraries and pulled out books by democratic and aavant-garde writers, many of them Jews. They then burned them before a large crowd, taking care to ensure wide media coverage. Similar burnings occurred both before and after this event, in other German locations. Various Nazi organizations ignited enormous bonfires of books they deemed unfit, wither because of their contents or the identity of their authors.
 
Heinrich Heine, the 19th-century German-Jewish poet and author had said: "In a place where books are burned, people are likely to be burned as well." What took place on 10 May, 1933, sadly the harbinger of other such events to come, proved him right.
 
Today, the same texts that evoked such hatred 80 years ago are once again in evidence on bookshelves. A German publisher is working to publish the "Library of Burned Books", including those destroyed in the early years of the Nazi dictatorship. 
 
For an account of German history leading up to the rise of Nazism, visit the exhibition "From Democracy to Dictatorship" at the National Library
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