Burning books

2013 marks the 80th anniversary of the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists in Germany. One of the most famous events of that year took place on May 10th 1933 with the public book burning of over 25,000 “un-German” books on Opernplatz in Berlin (now renamed Bebelplatz).

At the beginning of April 1933, the German Student Association proclaimed a nationwide “action against the un-German spirit” throughout German universities. The aim was to remove undesirable professors from their posts, to blacklist “un-German” books and to purify libraries according to National Socialist principles.

A memorial to the Nazi book burning, Berlin 2006

A memorial to the Nazi book burning, Berlin 2006

The campaign reached its climax on the night of May 10th 1933 when students in over 20 university towns across Germany marched in torchlight parades to public book burnings. Students threw books onto bonfires, accompanied by marching bands, songs, incantations, fire oaths, speeches and ritualised ceremonies. The highlight of the evening was the public burning of over 25,000 “un-German” books on Opernplatz in Berlin, which was carried out by students, professors in academic robes and members of the SA, SS and Hitler Youth paramilitary organisations. The event was accompanied by music from SA and SS bands, broadcast live on German radio and filmed by the weekly newsreel “Wochenschau”. At midnight, the Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, addressed a crowd of over 50,000 people  and condemned works written by Jews, liberals, leftists, pacifists, foreigners and others as “un-German”. Not all book burnings took place on May 10th. Some were postponed because of rain and some took place at the Summer solstice, a traditional date for bonfire celebrations in Germany. Nevertheless, the night witnessed public book burnings in university towns across Germany and the “action against the un-German spirit” was hailed by the press as a great success.

The latest research on the Nazi book burnings is currently being conducted by the Moses Mendelssohn Zentrum fur europäisch-jüdische Studien in Potsdam. The UL holds two of their comprehensive publications: Julius H. Schoeps & Werner Tress (eds.) : Verfemt und verboten, Vorgeschichte und Folgen der Bücherverbrennungen (2010) at 571:75.c.201.68, which chronicles the history of the event and its consequences and includes a select bibliography listing some of the burnt books, and Julius H. Schoeps & Werner Tress (eds.) : Orte der Bücherverbrennungen in Deutschland 1933 (2008) at 571:5.c.200.392, which examines the event at a more local level throughout Germany. The UL also holds further seminal books on the Nazi book burnings, such as Werner Tress : Wider den undeutschen Geist! Bücherverbrennung 1933 (2003) at 571:75.c.200.222, Hans-Herbert Wintgens & Gerard Oppermann (eds.) : 1933, verbrannte Bücher, verbrannte Autoren (2006) at 746:15.c.200.426 and Volker Weidermann : Das Buch der verbrannten Bücher (2008) at C205.c.9415.

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L. Noble

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