Tuesday, 10 May 2011

On This Day ... The Nazis Light the Fires of Hate

Today’s Notable Anniversary continues on the theme of Nazi Germany (see below).

On this day (May 10th) in 1933, the Office for Press and Propaganda of the German Student Association committed an unforgivable crime against culture and literary heritage. In university towns and cities across Germany, the student arm of the Nazi party carried out book burning ceremonies, reducing 25,000 books deemed to be ‘un-German’ or ‘against the German spirit’ to ash. This purge of literary works was often accompanied by many rousing speeches from Nazi party officials, like this one from the Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda himself, Joseph Goebbels.

"You are doing the right thing at this midnight hour—to consign to the flames the unclean spirit of the past…. Out of these ashes the phoenix of a new age will arise…. Oh Century! Oh Science! It is a joy to be alive!"

Joseph Goebbels delivering his speech
The list of works which were deemed ‘un-German’ is lengthy. Books by Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller, HG Wells, Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, Charles Darwin and Marcel Proust, among many others, met a fiery end. Incidentally, German writers were not spared – works by Albert Einstein, Ludwig Renn and the 19th century Jewish-German poet Heinrich Hein, who wrote the prophetic line "Where they burn books, they will also burn people" were also committed to the flames.

Interestingly, in a much less publicized but equally significant way , the Allies were also guilty of large-scale book burning. In 1946, during the de-Nazification of Germany, millions of books and artworks by proponents of the Nazi regime were destroyed. That's not something we hear about very often, is it?

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