This week (September 22-28) is Banned Books Week. This is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. It also bring attention to the harms of censorship and the importance of the First Amendment. Librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers celebrate Banned Books Week to fight against would-be censors who continue to threaten the freedom to read from all quarters and all political persuasions.
One of the darkest events in censorship history happened under the Nazi regime on May 10, 1933. In an effort to “purify” the German language and literature, the Nazi regime organized the burning of books all over Germany. During the book burning events by university students throughout the country, over 25,000 volumes of “un-German” books into bonfires. The largest of the book burning events was in Berlin where approximately 40,000 people gathered in Opernplatz (pictured left) to hear Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, give a passionate address. On May 10th, the Nazis burned works by Karl Marx, Ernest Hemingway, Erich Maria Remarque, Heinrich Mann, Ernst Gläser, Erich Kästner, Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, and Helen Keller.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to visit Berlin. I knew one of the spots I had to visit was Opernplatz, now called Bebelplatz. As a librarian who strongly believes in the First Amendment and will fight against censorship, visiting the place where the Nazi regime burned classic German and American works was an emotional visit.
Today, Bebelplatz is a peaceful square surrounded by the State Opera building, Humboldt University and St. Hedwig’s Cathedral. It would be easy to forget the atrocity that took place here on May 10, 1933 if it wasn’t for the memorial set into the cobbles. Created by Micha Ullman, the memorial in Bebelplatz lets you look down through glass plates that gives a view of an empty bookcase. The bookcase is large enough to hold 20,000 books – the number of books burned on May 10, 1933. The memorial is powerful and a great tribute to the books lost due to Nazi censorship.
Also among those works burned were the writings of beloved nineteenth-century German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who wrote in his 1820-1821 play Almansor the famous admonition, “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen”: “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”
There is a plaque set among the cobbles with the quote of Heinrich Heine along with another plaque that discusses the May 10th book burning.
Post written by Amanda B.