“You may burn my books and the books of the best minds, but the ideas those books contain have passed through millions of channels and will go on.”

-Helen Keller

Image: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

 

The Nazi book burnings were a campaign conducted by the German Student Union to ceremonially burn books in Nazi Germany and Austria. On 10 May 1933, the students burned upwards of 25,000 volumes of books in the square at the State Opera, Berlin, thereby presaging an era of uncompromising state censorship. The books targeted for burning were those viewed as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism. These included books written by Jewish, pacifist, religious, liberal, anarchist, socialist, communist, and sexologist authors among others. The first books burned were those of Karl Marx and Karl Kautsky.

The burning of books was an act of censorship to take action against the “Un-German Spirit” through cleansing by fire. The union also published the Twelve Theses, which called for a pure national language and culture, demanding that universities be centres of German nationalism. Many German students were complicit in the Nazi book burning campaign. They were known as Deutsche Studentenschaft, and when they ran out of books in their own libraries they turned to independent bookstores. Libraries were also asked to stock their shelves with material that stood up to Hitler’s standards, and destroy anything that did not.