Today Christians … stand at the head of this country. I pledge that I never will tie myself to parties who want to destroy Christianity. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit. We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theater, and in the press – in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past few years.
Adolf Hitler in: The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, 1922-1939, Vol. 1 (London, Oxford University Press, 1942, pages. 871-872)
Holocaust was and will always be a sensitive subject. Millions of people died, destinies have been destroyed and families torn apart. But beside the human losses, there were also many others that tore the world in pieces. The last survivors of the Holocaust still recall the hard times and persecutions of the Nazi that remained imprinted into their very souls. I am still amazed and grateful that some people have managed to survive that period and even escape from the concentration camps that were constructed especially for those that were not of Ayrian origins.
Among the many things that were affected by the German state prohibition were books. In the efforts of creating a pure country in which arts and culture coincide with Nazi party ideas, an initiative was launched by university students that had the purpose of burning books which were viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to the Nazi concepts.
Beside books written by Jewish authors, among the prohibited ones were also from religious or pacifist authors. The first books that were burned were the ones of Karl Marx, the founder of the scientific socialism, and the ones of Karl Kautsky, a marxist theoretician.
Famous writers have followed them. Even though an exhaustive list of all the books burned on the 10th of May 1933 is almost impossible, I will list in below one of the most famous books that were burned by students in Bebelplatz together with their Goodreads descriptions.
- A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway – The story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passion for an English nurse. Set against the looming horrors of the battlefield – the weary, demoralized men marching in the rain during the German attack on Caporetto
- The Iron Heel by Jack London – A dystopian novel about the terrible oppressions of an American oligarchy at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, and the struggles of a socialist revolutionary movement.
- All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque – The testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army of World War I. These young men become enthusiastic soldiers, but their world of duty, culture, and progress breaks into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.
- The Time Machine by H.G. Wells – Wells sends his brave explorer to face a future burdened with our greatest hopes…and our darkest fears. A pull of the Time Machine’s lever propels him to the age of a slowly dying Earth. There he discovers two bizarre races, the ethereal Eloi and the subterranean Morlocks, who not only symbolize the duality of human nature, but offer a terrifying portrait of the men of tomorrow as well.
- The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka – The story of a young man who, transformed overnight into a giant beetle-like insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. A harrowing—though absurdly comic—meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and isolation.
- War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells – One of the first and greatest works of science fiction ever to be written. Even long before man had learned to fly, H.G. Wells wrote this story of the Martian attack on England. These unearthly creatures arrive in huge cylinders, from which they escape as soon as the metal is cool.
- The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – One of Ernest Hemingway’s masterpieces, and a classic example of his spare but powerful writing style. A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway’s most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley.
- The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – Marx and Engels’s revolutionary summons to the working classes, The Communist Manifesto is one of the most important political theories ever formulated. After four years of collaboration, they produced an incisive account of their idea of Communism, in which they envisage a society without classes, private property or a state, arguing that the exploitation of industrial workers will eventually lead to a revolution in which Capitalism is overthrown.
- The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells – This masterpiece of science fiction is the fascinating story of Griffin, a scientist who creates a serum to render himself invisible, and his descent into madness that follows.
- A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – A dystopian novel written in 1931 and published in 1932. Largely set in a futuristic World State of genetically modified citizens and an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the novel anticipates huge scientific developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that are combined to make a utopian society that goes challenged only by a single outsider.
An interesting fact is that J. R. R. Tolkien was also suspected as being Jewish. His book, “The hobbit or There and Back Again” was also in danger of being burned. The author responded to the Nazis in the following way:
“If I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.”
Surprisingly enough, in Almansor, an 1820-1821 Heinrich Heine play replica, we can find one of the most famous quotes about books:
“Where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.”
A quote that in the end proved itself to be true. After the books burning event in 1933, the people considered not pure were shot, gased, burned and worked to death. Whether the quote was premonitory or not, it seems that it resulted in being fulfilled into the most hordid way.
It is important that we remember these events as history has its bad habit of repeating itself. The Nazi books burning was the prove of where prohibition can lead. In the end, we can only hope that people learn from their mistakes and stop at once with all the hatred and dehumanization.
©Picnic on the Shelf, May 24, 2019