BUCHENWALD 99: “Where they burn books, at the end they will also burn people”

As a scholar, the conflict in my family over my effort to create a book from my father’s records of the liberation of  Buchenwald, is all too reminiscent of a three hundred year old  event that was to prove seminal to Jewish history and much of the horror others have faced wherever books have been burned.

Four years after the title of this post  was written by Heinrich Heine, an event occurred that would become prophetic for much of the intellectual horror of the last century.  The eighteenth of October in 2017 will be the 3o0th anniversary of Martin Luther‘s historic burning of “Un-German” books at the Wartburg festival in 1817.

Joseph Goebbels’ quote is especially apt for my story  because of my brother’s efforts  .. as in the comments on this post .. to blame me for what he is trying to do.

Goebells Hugh projection

Speech to the students in Berlin The era of extreme Jewish intellectualism is now at an end. The breakthrough of the German revolution has again cleared the way on the German path… The future German man will not just be a man of books, but a man of character. It is to this end that we want to educate you. As a young person, to already have the courage to face the pitiless glare, to overcome the fear of death, and to regain respect for death – this is the task of this young generation. And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past. This is a strong, great and symbolic deed – a deed which should document the following for the world to know – Here the intellectual foundation of the November Republic is sinking to the ground, but from this wreckage the phoenix of a new spirit will triumphantly rise.

(from Wikipedia) On April 8, 1933, the Main Office for Press and Propaganda of the German Student Union proclaimed a nationwide “Action against the Un-German Spirit”, which was to climax in a literary purge or “cleansing” (“Säuberung”) by fire. Local chapters were to supply the press with releases and commissioned articles, sponsor well-known Nazi figures to speak at public gatherings, and negotiate for radio broadcast time. On the 8th of April, the Student Union also drafted the Twelve Theses which deliberately evoked Martin Luther and the historic burning of “Un-German” books at the Wartburg festival on the 300th anniversary of the posting of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses.

The theses called for a “pure” national language and culture. Placards publicized the theses, which attacked “Jewish intellectualism”, asserted the need to “purify” German language and literature, and demanded that universities be centres of German nationalism. The students described the “action” as a response to a worldwide Jewish “smear campaign” against Germany and an affirmation of traditional German values.

On 10 May 1933, in an act of ominous significance, the students burned upwards of 25,000 volumes of “un-German” books, thereby presaging an era of uncompromising state censorship. In many university towns, nationalist students marched in torch lit parades against the “un-German” spirit. The scripted rituals of this night called for high Nazi officials, professors, rectors, and student leaders to address the participants and spectators. At the meeting places, students threw the pillaged, banned books into the bonfires with a great joyous ceremony that included live music, singing, “fire oaths,” and incantations. In Berlin, some 40,000 people gathered in the square at the State Opera to hear Joseph Goebbels deliver a fiery address: “No to decadence and moral corruption!” Goebbels enjoined the crowd. “Yes to decency and morality in family and state! I consign to the flames the writings of Heinrich Mann, Ernst Gläser, Erich Kästner.”

Destruction of books has been a common crime, not just in Germany or in the Soviet and Maoist states.  In 1948, when Jordan conquered East Jerusalem, synagogues were raided and irreplaceable Torah scrolls, some very ancient, were burned.  Today we see quite similar behavior by Muslim extremists, not only under ISIS, but in places like Timbuktu and even our supposed ally Saudi Arabia.  And then there is the effort by modern China to eradicate Tibetan culture and efforts by the right wing in the US to “correct” history books’ accounts of slavery.

So for me , there is my problem with threats by my brother  to let our father’s pictures and writings from the liberation of Buchenwald rot before these now very fragile relics of his heroism can be shared with the few survivors.

0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Beanie #

    “As a scholar…”

    Oh, really?

  2. theaveeditor #

    Am I not a scholar?