Sunday, May 11, 2008

Germany Marks Book Burning Anniversary

May 10 marked the anniversary of the infamous Nazi book burnings that took place in Germany in 1933 and that country is marking this 75th anniversary by focusing on the authors whose works were destroyed that day. According to this DW-World article, some 130 authors found themselves on the list to have their works ceremoniously wiped out:

But while the names and works of many of the targeted authors are still popular today, others like German writers Maria Leitner and Georg Hermann have virtually been forgotten.

This shows that in some ways the book burning had a long-term effect, according to Olaf Zimmermann, managing director of the German Council of Culture.

"Yes, it's disgraceful, but the sad fact is that many authors whose books landed on the bonfires have faded into obscurity," he said.
Today an underground memorial marks the spot on what is now August Bebel Platz. Conceived as an "empty library," visitors can view it through a glass window built into the pavement.

"It is the right monument in the right place," according to Klaus Staeke, president of the Academy of Arts.

Records show that at least 35,000 books were burned in 22 cities between May and the end of August 1933 in an event unseen since the Middle Ages.

In Berlin, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels delivered a midnight speech in which he said: "The era of Jewish intellectualism is now at an end. The soul of the German people can express itself again."
I've always been struck by the fact that, as the article mentions, the "burn list" was compiled by students who very aggressively worked to purge public and private libraries of the books before the burnings finally took place. It is good to mark this kind of anniversary, I think, in order to remind ourselves that mass hysteria is never that far away from sweeping the world up into some kind of new craziness that we will regret as soon as the smoke clears (pun intended). After all, this was only 75 years ago, the blink of an eye, really.


  1. Thanks for the link as I'd overlooked the anniversary and DW is always a good source of news.

    I'm interested to find the complete list of banned books, as the likes of Helen Keller and Jack London didn't strike me as obvious candidates.

  2. I'd be interested to see how many American and Canadian authors made the hit list, Sarah. I've been trying to figure out the reasoning behind placing Keller on the list myself.

  3. I agree, was a dark day in history, especially because of what shortly followed.

  4. Hello -- I'm glad that the anniversary has been marked too. Micha Ullman's memorial in Berlin is remarkable and very moving.
    Sam, Helen Keller was included on the list because of her pacifist and socialist writings (especial notice was taken of 'How I Became A Socialist'), two categories that were actively singled out by the Nazis in their so-called "fire incantations" as banned in the new Germany. Jack London was banned in Germany for similar reasons.
    The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a good intro to the bookfires, and from memory has some information on international authors that had their books burned in 1933.

  5. Matthew, thanks for the information on Keller and London. I hadn't made that connection but it makes perfect sense that they would have been targeted that way. I appreciate the input.