Each year on the 4th of May we, the Dutch, take a couple of minutes to remember the people who died in WWII. And the wars after that. The next day, the 5th we celebrate the ending of the war. I also do a little ‘remembrance’ on Kimbooktu,but in a bookish way. I bring you a post related to the Second World War and books. Last year I wrote an article on Anne Frank, to be seen here. This year’s topic is the destruction of books during WWII. Click ‘more’ to read the article.
A literary Holocaust
“The story of the six million is also the story of the one hundred million… the mass slaughter of Jews was accompanied by the most devastating literary holocaust of all time”. These are the words of Jonathan Rose, the director of the graduate program in book history at Dew University in the United States. He describes the most horrific event, the black page, in book history.
Millions and millions of books were destroyed by burning, before and during the Second World War. Any book that the Nazi’s did not approve of was thrown into a bonfire. Books on Jewish culture, books that had anything to do with Jewish people were their main target. Other books had little chance to survive as well. Any book “Un-German” was banned and bound to be eaten by fire.
The book burnings took place all over Europe. This ‘ritual’ started on May 10, 1933. Nazi’s gathered on the Opernplatz in the German Berlin to burn 20.000 books at once. In other parts of the country books were also set alight by groups of students which made a party out of it. While bands played joyous lyrics, the students kept the bonfires going by means of literature. A total of 35.000 books went to ashes on that day alone.
It did not stop there. A couple of ritual burnings also took place a few days later. The weather gods prevented the students from burning more books on May 10th . The next big day of book burning took place on summer solstice in June. It was all over the news. The Germans could listen in live via the radio how the Un-German books were destroyed. About 34 university towns were lit up by bookish bonfires that day.
Books by famous German writers like Brecht, Mann, Freud and Einstein went up in smoke. The books of American authors Ernest Hemingway and Helen Keller were also seen as a threat and were demolished. And again, it did not end there.
After the Second World War many more books have been burned. Harry Potter, the Bible, The Satanic Verses. Even today books are handed over to the merciless flames, simply because people do not like their content. The book burnings during WWII proved that it is useless.
Bertolt Brecht wrote a poem about the burning of the books: “The Bookburning”, or “Die Bücherverbrennung”:
“When the regime ordered
Books with dangerous knowledge
To be burned in public and everywhere
Oxen were forced to pull, carts with books
to the bonfires, one of the persecuted poets
discovered one of the best
studying the list of the burned
disconcerted, that his books were forgotten.
He rushed to his desk, flying on wings of rage
and wrote a letter to the the authorities.
Burn me! he wrote with a quick stroke
Burn me! don’t do this to me! Do not spare me!
Have I not always reported the truth in my books?
Yet now you treat me as were I a liar!
I command you: Burn me!
Sources (Further reading!)
Jonathan Rose, The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation (click here to learn more.)
Jewish Virtual Library: here.
For more photo’s on the book burnings, click here.