National Socialist Book Burning
Numerous books and articles have been written about National Socialist Germany’s book burning and censorship. Some people even think that Germany’s book burning was the precursor to the “Holocaust.” For example, Fernando Baez writes:
The Holocaust describes the systematic annihilation of millions of Jews by the Nazis during World War II. But that event was preceded by the Bibliocaust, in which millions of books were destroyed by Hitler’s party. The destruction of books in 1933 was the prologue to the slaughter that followed. The bonfires of books inspired the crematory ovens.1
This article documents the National Socialist book burning, and how this German censorship compares to that imposed by the Allies against Germany after World War II.
Berlin during the Weimar Republic became a center for pornography and various forms of sexual perversion. Berlin gained an international reputation for decadence, debauchery and pornography as depicted in the Broadway musical and later movie, Cabaret.2
Serious attempts were made in 1932 by Berlin’s reigning Social Democrats to ban most pornographic publications. These attempts were implemented in 1933 when National Socialist private militias proceeded to cleanse Germany of pornography originating from Jewish and Marxist elements.3
The National Socialist private militias started with Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute of Sexology. National Socialists on May 6, 1933, ransacked Hirschfeld’s Sexual Science Library and vandalized the main buildings. They proceeded to confiscate approximately 100,000 books and manuscripts to fuel an evening bonfire at the Opernplatz in Berlin several days later.4
The targeting of Magnus Hirschfeld’s institute by the National Socialists was hardly surprising. As a Jew, homosexual and sexologist, Hirschfeld was a powerful symbol of all that National Socialists detested. Hirschfeld’s institute also contained the works of many authors who had been placed on the National Socialists’ “black list”: Sigmund Freud, Havelock Ellis, Oscar Wilde, Edward Carpenter, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, and many others.5
Magnus Hirschfeld wrote the following concerning the burning of books in his institute:
I do not devote much space to the public auto-da-fé of tons of books. I rather enjoyed the performance. It showed the mentality of the Nazis and made them ridiculous in the eyes of the whole world. And it didn’t really hurt anybody—except some annoyance and expense to the owners. And the books which had the honor of being burned by the Nazi executioners will be in greater demand because of it. No, if the Nazis were only imbeciles I would not mind much. But they are brutes and that I do mind. Yes, the burning of the books was a decidedly good thing. Let them commit a few more of such infantilities and they will be laughed off the map.6
Homosexual publications were also banned by the National Socialist regime. The elimination of most censorship during the Weimar Republic had led to the publication of numerous books and periodicals dealing with homosexual themes. One such homosexual publication was the Die Freundschaft (Friendship), the world’s first homosexual newspaper openly sold at kiosks. This newspaper had a broad popular appeal and helped to establish Berlin’s expansive homosexual press, which produced nearly 30 periodical titles during the Weimar Republic.7
In addition to banning all homosexual publications, in 1935 Heinrich Himmler championed a new anti-sodomy statute which criminalized all erotic contact between men. One year later the Reich Office to Combat Homosexuality and Abortion was established, resulting in the arrest and imprisonment of large numbers of homosexual men. These arrests reflected the National Socialist view that male homosexuality was a contagious perversion, and that, like diseases, homosexual conduct might be cured.8
All nudist organizations were also dissolved in Germany in 1933, with all books advocating nudism banned at the same time. Himmler and several other National Socialist leaders reversed this policy in 1936, but in 1941, nudist publications once again were denied the right to publish.9
The book burnings of May 10, 1933, were a publicity stunt devised by Deutsche Studentenschaft, a National Socialist student organization, to upstage another student organization and curry favor with the government. Joseph Goebbel’s newly founded Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda welcomed the student initiative without contributing to the preparations. No German government ministry officially approved the “blacklist” of books to be burned. Instead, a committee of professional German librarians that included Wolfgang Herrmann sent a list of banned books to the students.10
Historian Leonidas E. Hill summarizes the books deemed to be “un-German” literature:
Bookowners knew that possession of the classics of left-wing literature, from Marx through Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Kautsky to Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Stalin, was dangerous; the Nazis even labeled this “high treason.” Before, at, and after the book burnings, Nazis typically classified the “un-German” books in a number of categories: antimilitarist authors Theodor Plievier, Erich Maria Remarque, Arnold Zweig; pacifists Bertha von Suttner, Alfred Hermann Fried, and Friedrich Wilhelm Foerster; left-oriented novelist-critics of bourgeoisie society Lion Feuchtwanger, Heinrich Mann, Ernst Gläser, and Erich Kästner; “communists” Bertolt Brecht, Gustav Regler, and Anna Seghers; satirists of the bourgeoisie, religion, and the army like George Grosz, photomontagist John Heartfield, essayist Kurt Tucholsky, and dramatists Ernst Toller and Georg Kaiser; the entire “Weltbühne” circle, with Carl von Ossietzky at its center, as well as literary historian Franz Mehring and critic Alfred Kerr; anti-Nazi journalists Theodor Wolff and Georg Bernhard; historians whose views about the origins (Walter Fabian, Hermann Kantorowicz, Emil Ludwig), course (Wilhelm Dittmann, Karl Tschuppik), and end (Martin Hobohm, Gustave Noske, Arthur Rosenberg, Carl Severing) of World War I and the history of the Weimar Republic (Emil Julius Gumbel, Hugo Preuss, Walter Rathenau) were incompatible with Nazi dogma; the founder of psychanalysis Sigmund Freud; and scientists propounding an incomprehensible worldview, epitomized by the outspokenly anti-Nazi physicist Albert Einstein, soon under attack for his “Jewish physics.”11
Many of the books burned on May 10, 1933 had not actually been banned. The National Socialist regime did not have a master plan to ban books when they took office, and did not soon design one. For some years, the National Socialist seizure and banning of books in the 15 German states were uncoordinated and carried out by many agencies at different levels of government.12
Two Jewish-founded libraries were established to counteract National Socialist Germany’s censorship. On May 10, 1934, the Deutsche Freiheitsbibliothek (German Freedom Library, also known as the German Library of Burnt Books) was opened in Paris. This library quickly collected over 20,000 volumes, and became a focus for organized readings, lectures, and exhibitions. The Brooklyn Jewish Center in New York also established an American Library of Nazi-Banned Books in December 1934, with noted intellectuals such as Albert Einstein and Upton Sinclair on its advisory board.13
Other Banned Authors
Many Jewish authors were targeted for book burning. Jewish anthropologist Franz Boas, for example, had argued that social environment rather than “race” determined a person’s intellectual capacities. Boas had condemned National Socialist theories of Aryan superiority, and wrote that “German civilization” was the product of “innumerable cultures influencing it.” Boas’s books were burned on the night of May 10, 1933 by German students as part of the massive public book burnings at universities across Germany.14
Other authors whose books were burned in the Opernplatz in Berlin include Heinrich Mann, Stefan Zweig, Erich Maria Remarque, Helen Keller, H.G. Wells, Thomas Mann, Ilya Ehrenburg, Karl Marx, Jack London, Rosa Luxemburg, Friedrich Engels, Upton Sinclair, and Vladimir Lenin. On the same day other book burnings were orchestrated across Germany, notably in the Römerberg in Frankfurt, the Königsplatz in Munich, the Schlossplatz in Breslau, and in front of the Bismarck statue in Dresden. By the time World War II started, 565 authors and 4,175 titles had been banned in Germany.15
Many of these banned authors created a publication in July 1933 titled the Brown Book of the Hitler Terror and the Burning of the Reichstag. Usually known simply as the Brown Book, it was the first major study to issue from any of the exile presses concerning the new Germany. The Brown Book condemned the National Socialist book burning:
The pyres of advanced literature in German city squares blazon far into the distance the message that the Brown barbarians intend not only to extirpate physically the most courageous and self-sacrificing anti-Fascists, but also to destroy everything of any vitality and worth and even anything that was at all progressive even from a bourgeois standpoint…
German Fascist reactionaries are determined in actual fact, and quite unsymbolically, to burn anything printed which does not suit them, just as they are determined physically to exterminate all writers and distributors of anti-Fascist literature.16
Despite public condemnation of National Socialist book burning, authors advertised the burning of their books to promote sales. Matthew Fishburn writes:
The memory of the book burnings was still a potent force throughout the decade, and many exiles continued to appropriate them as an index of authenticity and relevance. Inclusion on a blacklist became an imprimatur and something to be advertised. Romain Rolland was clearly delighted that his Jean Christophe was displayed in a glass case at the Oranienburg concentration camp “along with works of Marx, Engels, and German or Russian Communists, in the ‘museum’ of books burned, or about to be burned.” Similarly, the insider account of Germany’s Air Force (1935) by Otto Lehmann-Russbueldt proudly stated that all of his works “were publicly burned in Germany.” Ernst Toller’s introduction to his I Was a German (1935), an account of his philosophical rejection of the “barren pageantry” of the new regime, introduced it with a simple manifesto on the need to resist the “yoke of barbarism.” He signed it on the “day my books were burnt in Germany.” It constituted a sort of merit badge in anti-fascism or a hard-won campaign medal. When Erika Mann published her School for Barbarians (1938) in the United States she scarcely referred to the event, but her publishers knew better, issuing the paperback edition with flaming books on the cover.17
Other Banned Books
National Socialist Germany banned books that ran counter to its idea of a woman’s role in society. Guenter Lewy writes:
In the eyes of the Nazis, a woman’s highest values were marriage and motherhood, and a “healthy sexuality” was acceptable only for the purpose of procreation. Hence books that ran counter to this view of women’s role in society were banned. A book published in 1930 that defended birth control, abortion, and support for women who had experienced a miscarriage was forbidden in 1940. Also banned was a book that described the method of natural birth control based on the woman’s cycles of fecundity. A calendar of conception was forbidden because it violated “healthy moral sensitivity” and was also undesirable on account of its demographic point of view, that is, it sought to limit population increase. And a book with the title The Rise of Women was banned because it “represented the typical product of an intellectual woman” who neutralized her womanhood by taking refuge in creative literary activity. Moreover, the bibliography of the work included “more than a dozen sexual Bolsheviks (Sexualbolschewisten).”18
The books of certain religious writers were also banned. Lewy writes:
It goes without saying that the works of Karl Kautsky and Otto Bauer, dealing with the relationship of socialism and Christianity, were forbidden. The same fate met the writings of the religious socialists Paul Tillich, Günther Dehn, and Paul Piechowski as well as the works of the Christian pacifists Otto Dibelius and Leonhard Ragaz. As was to be expected, all the books of the Jesuit Friedrich Muckermann, who had left Germany in 1934 and who carried on an active campaign of denunciation of the Nazi regime, were indexed. Equally unacceptable were the writings of Protestant theologians such as Emil Brunner and Karl Bath, who had voiced criticism of the Nazi regime.19
Books written by Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Swiss Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, and the Anthroposophical Society founded by Rudolf Steiner were also banned.20
Austrian Book Burning
National Socialist Germany also engaged in book burning after its Anschluss with Austria. Jewish libraries and left-wing collections were seized, and some people simply purged their own libraries out of fear.21 Martin Borman on April 24, 1939 signed Order 84-39, which sought to unify the work of confiscation by having all material brought intact to established centers for evaluation.22
American newspaperman Ralph McGill wrote: “One day I went to watch them burn books. A great pile blazed in the center of a square. It was a foolish thing and that was how it seemed…Suddenly I knew that the disappearance of books and newspapers was not just foolishness by a lot of boy bullies.”23
The New York Times on May 1, 1938, reported on a public book burning in Salzburg: “The ceremony began at 8 o’clock [in the evening] when a schoolboy threw Dr. Schuschnigg’s book, Three Times Austria, on a gasoline-soaked pyre at gaily illuminated Residenz Square. Next came books on Chancellor Engelbert Dolfuss and his regime, then propaganda books and works by Jewish authors…The burning was largely symbolic, however, for only one copy each of 2,000 different books was consigned to the flames. The rest, said to consist of more than 30,000 volumes collected from the university and other libraries, are to be burned later.”24
Many books by Catholic authors were also banned. For example, a book of verse that had been used in Austrian schools before the Anschluss was banned because “many verses represented obvious propaganda for Catholic ideas.” The Austrian conservative Othmar Spann had hoped he could influence the National Socialist movement. Instead, he was imprisoned for a few months after the Anschluss, and in 1940 it was announced that no more of his writings could be published.25
After Germany’s Anschluss with Austria, major American newspapers reported that German officials had sent the Austrian National Library’s chief librarian a list of books they wanted removed for burning. Several American universities became involved in a campaign to save the Austrian National Library’s Jewish books. Probably as a result of this campaign, the Austrian National Library announced it would not destroy these Jewish books, but instead remove them from public access and lock them in special rooms.26
Richard Ovenden writes about National Socialist book burning: “The 10 May 1933 book-burning was merely the forerunner of arguably the most concerted and well-resourced eradication of books in history.”27In this author’s opinion, however, the Allied destruction of books and literature in Germany after World War II was more extensive than what occurred in National Socialist Germany.
Few people realize that the Allies removed and then destroyed no fewer than 34,635 titles of books and brochures from German libraries and bookstores after they conquered Germany. This is many times more books destroyed by the Allies than were destroyed by National Socialist Germany. Even today books doubting the “Holocaust” can lead to a house search and confiscation of the incriminating literature, with fines and jail time meted out to the owner of the books.28
The destruction of large sections of German literature was part of the Allied reeducation program for Germany. Hans Schmidt described his experience of the Allied treatment of Germans after World War II:
As far as the German people were concerned, the victors wanted only a malleable mass of dispirited, destitute, hungry, cowering, and defenseless Teutons who knew the way to physical survival was to placate every whim of the victors. A still proud German was (always!) immediately branded a…Nazi; worse than a criminal….
I still vividly remember that soon after our defeat the victors set about to destroy all traditions and institutions that represented Germany. They did this under the spurious concept encased into even more spurious laws “to free the German people from Militarism and National Socialism.” Absolutely no organization except the Roman Catholic Church was allowed to continue functioning: not even the Red Cross, nor any other charitable organization, no public or private administration, no bank, no newspaper or magazine, no radio station—the list went on….
To me personally it was also disturbing to see that all well-known traditional publications (newspapers and magazines) had been forced out of existence, and new firms with new names appeared on the horizon. In addition, all that which we consider part of a nation’s historic tradition was purposely destroyed, eradicated, or forbidden in Germany, usually under the guise of an alleged De-Militarization. Memorials to our fallen soldiers of long-ago wars disappeared, the monuments to Kaisers and kings were removed from their pedestals and melted down, and time-honored memorial days could not be found on the new calendars. Instead, many of the current memorial days in the Bundesrepublik are days where the Germans have to pay obeisance to the victors.29
Some banned authors said that all National Socialist books should be eliminated. Thomas Mann, for example, insisted in 1945 that all books published in Germany during the National Socialist regime should be pulped because they were “less than worthless” and “smelled of blood.”30 He thus advocated for greater censorship of books after the war in Germany than what existed during the National Socialist regime. Mann’s desired extreme censorship of books is exactly what the Allies imposed on Germany after World War II.
Editor Comment: The Book Burning of today has reached a new global level. Independent publishers of books, journal or newspapers like The Barnes Review and American Free Press are (in contravention of even the American Constitution) denied advertising revenue (advertisers are intimidated and access to credit card or paypal payments shutdown). When a new payment method is created then that also is shutdown. Websites like Wears War are “burned” off the internet and books like Germany’s War by John Wear are “burned” from the mega corporations such as Amazon. The books that school children, university students and tax-paying adults can access are controlled by the “Illusion of Choice” Corporations. Thus their version of history becomes ‘fact’.
The greatest irritation for today’s Book Burners is the internet. No matter the ‘plausible’ excuses they offer, the fact remains, they want total control over what we read, watch and teach our children about our past, present and future. Without question.
1 Baez, Fernando, A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern Iraq, New York: Atlas & Co., 2008, p. 206.
2 Bradberry, Benton L., The Myth of German Villainy, Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2012, p. 145.
3 Gordon, Mel, Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin, Los Angeles: Feral House, 2000, pp. vi, 212.
5 Beachy, Robert, Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, pp. 241-243.
6 Fishburn, Matthew, Burning Books, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008, p. 43.
7 Beachy, Robert, Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, p. 164.
8 Ibid., p. 245.
9 Lewy, Guenter, Harmful and Undesirable: Book Censorship in Germany, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 88-90.
10 Rose, Jonathan (editor), The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation, Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001, pp. 12-13.
11 Ibid., p. 13.
13 Ovenden, Richard, Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge under Attack, London: John Murray, 2020, pp. 120-121.
14 Norwood, Stephen H., The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 75-76.
15 Baker, Kenneth, On the Burning of Books, London: Unicorn Publishing Group, 2016, pp. 51-52; Confino, Alon, A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014, pp. 42-43.
16 Fishburn, Matthew, Burning Books, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008, pp. 53-54.
17 Ibid., p. 71.
18 Lewy, Guenter, Harmful and Undesirable: Book Censorship in Germany, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, p. 88.
19 Ibid., p. 91.
20 Ibid., pp. 95-96.
20 Baker, Kenneth, On the Burning of Books, London: Unicorn Publishing Group, 2016, p. 56.
22 Baez, Fernando, A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern Iraq, New York: Atlas & Co., 2008, p. 214.
23 Fishburn, Matthew, Burning Books, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008, p. 69.
24 Bosmajian, Haig, Burning Books, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006, p. 166.
25 Lewy, Guenter, Harmful and Undesirable: Book Censorship in Germany, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 92-94.
26 Norwood, Stephen H., The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 226-228.
27 Ovenden, Richard, Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge under Attack, London: John Murray, 2020, p. 121.
28 Schmidt, Hans, Hitler Boys in America: Re-Education Exposed, Pensacola, FL: Hans Schmidt Publications, 2003, pp. 47-48.
29 Ibid., pp. 20-21.
30 Lewy, Guenter, Harmful and Undesirable: Book Censorship in Germany, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, p. 165.