JF Ptak Science Books Post 3210
“Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen" ("Where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people").--Almansor, Heinrich Heine.
Independent and provocative ideas are usually the first things to be attacked by totalitarian regimes, and the Nazis not only did that in spirit but in action, and unfortunately part of a long and very bleak history of killing ideas and books.
Books have been destroyed for as long as they have been made, for reasons as varied as those for their writing: the motivations for biblio-devastation are ever-reaching. Perhaps the most astounding and appalling of them all resides in the fetid memory and fouled grave of the Chinese emperor Shi Huang Ti (third century BCE), who in his 49 years of life liquidated nearly every book in China, psychotically determined to make himself the most-remembered person in history by eliminating history itself. Not to be outdone by books, he eliminated authors as well. And scholars.
Authors not only have been killed for their works, some have followed them directly into the flames. Michael Servetus, who has a complicated history and who was found wanting in his relationship with church orthodoxy on many levels, met his end on a pyre with his books. One of those books, a medical text, challenged the (religious) orthodoxy of the brain being the seat of all power and wisdom of the body, stating that it was the heart that pumped the blood and not the head, providing another chink in the armor of theological doctrine. Pissed as the reigning Christians were with this belief, this book probably was not the thing that most annoyed them, but it also didn't help his case, either. But no matter, he and his books were burned together to ashes for reasonable and logical thought. There were many others before and after this.
The great example in the history of burning books in the West is probably Florentine Savonarola's "Bonfire of the Vanities", which saw th eworks of Ovid, Propertius, Dante, Bocaccio and many other classics condemned to flame
The Nazis were interested in not being interested except for the burning of pacifist lit, degenerate art-inspired literature and art books, anything by Jewish people in any field whatsoever (including the sciences, and hence the creation of the “Jewish physics” of Albert Einstein, any works that denigrated the German people or history or anything that could possibly address action against the German state...and on and on. The infamous book burnings took place mostly on May 10, 1933 and again on June 21, functioning under the umbrella of the Main Office for Press and Propaganda of the German Student Union which asserted the great incendiary "Action against the Un-German Spirit", though of course the orders and instructions for such a miserably fetid melange came from further up the National Socialist food chain. Some of the writers included in the burning and forbidden edicts included Victor Hugo, André Gide, Romain Rolland, Henri Barbusse, Ernest Hemingway, Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, John Dos Passos, Helen Keller, Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley, James Joyce, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Maxim Gorki,Isaac Babel, Vladimir Lenin, Vladimir Nabokov, Leo Tolstoy, Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Ilya Ehrenburg.
It was a pretty inclusive list, and brought the idea of a German intelligensia to wobbly and shattered knees, a prosaic and sickly-sweet German temporalism not so much unlike the music Hitler enjoyed and the very basic things that he painted.
The response to these actions worldwide was curt and devastating, as is easily imagined, and provided simple platforms for other areas of anti-Nazi hearts and minds offensives.
The very striking and simple image above was something I just found in the April 24, 1943 issue of The Nation—not much more needed to be said. (The Nation had since 1932 been very vocally anti-Hitler, with issue after issue featuring articles from the earliest periods of Hitler's Germany detesting what actions the man was taking in that country, as well as gritty and effect political cartoons featuring blood and rats and the like.)
There were other variations on this theme, like the one below, being made into a poster and using a quote from Franklin Roosevelt, and set in stark contrast to the Nazi book burnings:
[Books are weapons...poster, 1940-1945, via the Library of Congress]
And another version, suggesting what sorts of books could be used in this war:
Goebbels proclaimed that the flames of the books burning in Berlin were an expression of the German people--that the flames illuminated "the end of an old era and light of the new". An anti-Phoenix.
[Source: jonathanevincent blog, here.]