Book Burnings: Intellectualism Up in Smoke
Coming from a country blessed with many freedoms, including the freedom of speech and the press, it is hard for us to imagine that a government could sanction the burning of books. If this happened in today’s age, there would be an outcry over the violation of our rights. In Nazi Germany however, this was not the case. Not only did they encourage the burning of books, but they also generally had a strong opposition to intellectualism, much of which was represented in the works burned.
The Nazi ideology was based in this anti-intellectualism. Hitler himself stated that if they weren’t necessary, he would get rid of all the intellectuals. The Nazis believed that true Germans could think “with their blood”; they had no need for inquisitive thought. After all, if people really got to thinking, they probably wouldn’t follow the Nazis.
In support of their fight against intellectualism, the Nazis then encouraged the destruction of materials that did not support their own ideology. People across Germany responded to this encouragement by staging mass book burnings of undesirable materials. Most often at the head of these burnings were university students, who intended these burnings “as symbolic acts against the ‘un-German spirit'” (1). Included among the burnings were the works of Marx, Freud, and other social theorists. Anything that questioned the way things were or presented a view of society that was unfavorable to the Nazi ideology, no matter how true it may be, was thrown into the fire.
This served to help further the control that the Nazis had over the people’s lives. They controlled what was “good culture” and what was degenerate. If they didn’t agree with what you had to say, then your work would be labelled as un-German and degenerate. No one could express their own opinion or ideas if it did not coincide with the Nazis. In short, because the intellectual was a questioner, they had no place in Nazi society.
The Nazis believed that they could move into a better future where the German people were a superior race. They thought they could surpass all others, but what can come out of a country that suppresses the creative and inquisitive minds of its people? When thought is not encouraged, will society ever advance? Could Nazi society really have gone anywhere with the continued suppression of intelligent thought? For the basis of advancement lies in the questioning mind. When no one is allowed to think, solutions to problems can never be found.
- Jackson Spielvogel, Hitler and Nazi Germany: A History (United States: Pearson Education, 2014), 94, 96.
Video Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum “Nazi Book Burning”. May 2013; Washington, D.C., USA