Book Burning in Nazi Germany

In Mark's Post on September 28, 2010 at 3:01 am

The recent controversy over burning the Koran in Florida on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States made headlines worldwide. Over 65 years ago, the world watched as the German people under Nazi rule burned thousands of books in massive bonfires fueled by copies of books from authors they deemed undesirable. Of course, this was not the first time that books were the fuel for fires around the world. Books were burned in 221 B.C. by the Chinese, and Martin Luther burned books of canon law along with a papal bull against him in the 16th century. In 1817, German students celebrated Martin Luther burning books by burning more books that they felt were unacceptable and contrary to the national spirit and character. (Ritchie 1988)

A country ruled by a totalitarian regime needs to have its citizens staunchly supporting it, without dissidence for it to succeed. The Nazi party used the economic crisis facing the country after World War I, and propaganda aimed at fanning the flames of nationalism to rise to power legally. To maintain its extreme worldviews, the Nazi party sought to eliminate any person, or thought that would conflict with its mission. By motivating the college age population to burn thousands of books, the German Student Association was able to align itself to the Nazi ideal. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, spoke on the May 10, 1933 beginning of the book burning, as much of the books burned were written by Jewish authors. One has to remember that the Nazi party had courted the youth closely, and that many of the then current college students were involved with the Nazi party in various forms prior to enrolling in college.

After the Reichstag fire, which burned an important government building in Berlin, similar to the current U.S. Capitol building in importance, the Nazi party unleashed a fierce assault on every group they found to be undesirable. With the vast majority of the nation supporting them, and rallying together after a national building had been torched, they found it easy to criticize Communists, homosexuals, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, trade unionists, and many intellectuals. Further, many leading liberal authors came under fire and as persecution worsened, many left the country permanently. Even Einstein left under persecution from the rising Nazi party. The Nazis sought to infiltrate all professional bodies that worked with writers, to force any communists, or Jewish writers to leave. The Congress of the Free Word, a conference for authors and intellectuals was broken up by police on February 18, 1933, and the police stood by as the Nazis assaulted any in the crowd they wanted to. As the Nazis replaced professors, curators, teachers, librarians and other educational personal with people who believed the way they did, and reflected their ideals in their appearance, all schools, from elementary to university, stopped the free flow of ideas and information, and became centers of propaganda for the Nazis.

Leading up to the burning of books, dozens of college towns throughout the country of Germany were to have torch lit parades, with students, professors, and Nazi officials attending, participating, and speaking to the thousands gathered to witness the spectacle. Many thousands gathered to hear Goebbels speak on the occasion, and others heard everything on the radio broadcasts. It was dubbed, “Action against the Un-German Spirit” and it was a resounding success in the eyes of the Nazis. American authors like Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and Helen Keller were burned, and H.G. Wells, a British author had his books torched. Of course, many Jewish authors were burned, and Karl Marx, who was born in Germany, but the mind behind the communist ideal, had his books burned as well.

Less than 15 years later, in 1946 the German people and remnants of the Nazi party would it felt like to be censored as the millions of books distributed by the Nazi party were burned. Schoolbooks for children of all ages, documents, propaganda, fictional novels, films, poetry, and anything else that could be deemed as contributing to militarism or Nazism were to be destroyed. The Allies goal of Denazification, or rooting out all Nazism in Germany, made possessing any literature or media of the Third Reich against the law. While many defended the measure, some felt that any censorship was wrong, and that by banning the different Nazi media, it would become more popular, and portray the fallen totalitarian government as a martyr. (Germany: Read No Evil 1946)


Bunker, Lisa, and Bonnie Travers. When Books Burn: Introduction. February 19, 2002. http://www.library.arizona.edu/images/burnedbooks/intro.htm (accessed September 28, 2010).

Institute for Advanced Study. In Brief. 2005. http://www.ias.edu/people/einstein/in-brief (accessed September 28, 2010).

LeMaster, Lynne. Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings. May 4, 2008. http://www.prescottenews.com/community/yavapai-county/fighting-the-fires-of-hate-america-and-the-nazi-book-burnings (accessed September 28, 2010).

Ritchie, J. M. “The Nazi Book-Burning.” The Modern Language Review, July 1988: 627-643.

Time. “Germany: Read No Evil.” May 27, 1946.

United States Holocaust Museum. Bibliographies. April 1, 2010. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005852 (accessed September 28, 2010).

—. Book Burning. April 1, 2010. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005852 (accessed September 28, 2010).

Censorship of Books in the Soviet Union from 1920-1940

In Tim's Post on September 21, 2010 at 11:13 pm


            Lenin and Stalin both had ideas of how books should be used in the Soviet Union and these ideas are contrary to how we perceive the use of books today.  The main use of books in the Soviet Union was to imbed “cultural products into the collective memory” of the people.[1] Libraries were used as tools for Soviet party propaganda to promote “the spirit of the ideas of socialism and communism.”[2] In the time of Lenin and Stalin the libraries in the Soviet Union were repeatedly purged of all books deemed “harmful” to society.[3]  These purges dramatically changed what books could be found at libraries and which ones were censored. This article will explain the history of the library purges and the ideas behind book censorship in the Soviet Union.

            In 1923, a man named E. Proskuriakova outlined the characteristics of books that were considered “harmful” to the Soviet Union.  On this list was: Failure to promote the worker’s class consciousness and willingness to work hard, religious propaganda, pro-tsarist ideas, opposition to revolutionary class struggle, and promoting national hatred.[4]  It was this same year that Krupskaia (Lenin’s wife) started a book purge which banned “Plato, Descartes, Kant, the Gospels, the Koran, the Talmud, Carlyle, Tolstoy and William James.”[5] When ask for reasons why, Kruspskia replied, “The masses do not read Kant.”[6]  These authors were all censored for containing “harmful” material that questioned the Soviet message that the party was trying to impose onto the people. This purge was followed by another in 1927, where sixty percent of all books were eliminated in most Soviet libraries. Yet again, in 1929 libraries were forced to censor their collections further by party demand.[7]

            In the 1930’s book censorship in the Soviet Union did not stop; between 1930 and 1932, libraries lost sixty percent more of their stock that was already purged at least three times.[8] During just one year in Moscow over 779,579 books were lost and most books were never reprinted.[9]  The over accumulation of censored books stored away also became a storage problem in the libraries.[10] An investigation committee was made on March 27, 1934 to oversee library affairs in the U.S.S.R. and they wanted library workers to use books “for the purpose of communism and for party political education work.”[11]  Books were treated as sources of propaganda and not sources enlightenment. In 1936, an All-Union Library Conference took place from December 16-27 and looked at problems in library science and bibliography.[12] The number one issue discussed at this conference was “the role of catalogs in helping libraries fulfill their propaganda functions.”[13]

            It can be seen that in the years between 1920-1940 that book censorship was based on protecting the party image of the Soviet Union and utilizing books, as well as libraries as tools of propaganda.  The libraries in the Soviet Union lost almost all of their book collections due to the various purges over the years.  In the end, the libraries were void of any substantial books because the harsh censorship that was imposed by Lenin and Stalin. In an interesting example, Soviet Writer A. Pokrovskii was labeled a criminal for stating that no books were good or bad and praising “American public libraries for offering a universal, free service and being accessible to all the people.”[14] It makes one realize how terrible book censorship was in the Soviet Union and it shows how highly praised the American library system was at the time.


Choldin, Marianna T. “Access to Foreign Publications in Soviet LIbraries.” Libraries & Culture Vol. 26, no. 1 (1991): 135-150.

Plamper, Jan. “Abolishing Ambiguity: Soviet Censorship Practices in the 1930s.” Russian Review Vol. 60, no. 4 (2001): 526-544.

Robert Rogers, A. “Censorship and Libraries in the Soviet Union.” Journal of Library History, Philosophy, and Comparative Librarianship Vol. 8, no. 1 (1973): 22-29.

[1] Plamper 552

[2] Choldin, 137

[3] Rogers, 24

[4] Rogers, 24

[5] Rogers, 24

[6] Rogers, 24

[7] Rogers, 24

[8] Rogers, 25

[9] Rogers 25

[10] Rogers, 26

[11] Rogers, 26

[12] Rogers, 26

[13] Rogers,26

[14] Choldin, 138

The Censorship of Writing and Literature Under Napoleon I

In Tim's Post on September 21, 2010 at 10:36 pm


            After the turbulent years of the French Revolution, Napoleon had risen to power with the intention of bringing in a moderate authoritarian regime. He sought to control what content was to be published and read by the people.  Napoleon devised a “system competent to curb the unbridled individualism that the Revolution had evoked.”[1]  He had a political agenda that he wanted to promote and anything written that went against his views was censored.

            An early example of censorship was made in a decree on Jan 17, 1800 which suppressed fifty political newspapers out of sixty-three in Paris.[2]  This was just the beginning of the era in which the creativity and freedom of the written arts in France would be stifled by Napoleon.  In September of 1803, Napoleon passed a decree that ordered every book that was currently for sale to be submitted to a Commission of Revision and in July of 1804 the decree allowed him to have surveillance over all books.[3] Napoleon gained full control in overseeing what books were appropriate for the people and what books he wanted to alter or ban entirely.

            The targets for Napoleon’s censorship can be grouped into a few categories of unacceptable material which are: Talk of the Old Regime (Bourbon dynasty) and Revolution, material that may challenge his authority or the churches’, the glorification of other cultures (especially England), and the subjects of Romance.[4]  Napoleon claimed that the censorship was based on stopping, “the manifestation of ideas which trouble the peace of the state, its interests and good order.”[5]  The poet Delille was on the verge of being imprisoned for his sympathetic views on the victims of the Terror during the Revolution, in his poem titled “La Pitié.”[6] Napoleon issued a ban on the Roman historian Tacitus, “due to a nervous fear that the analysis of the motives of tyrants would lead to dangerous comparison.”[7] As England was the natural enemy of France at this time, anything sympathetic to English culture was frowned upon.  In regards to Shakespeare, Napoleon was quoted as saying, “I have read him…There is nothing which compares to Corneille, or to Racine. There is no way of reading one of his plays, they make one sorry for him.”[8] During the time when Romantic literature was becoming popular the Napoleonic government dismissed it as immoral, which made life for the important writers Chateaubriand and Madame de Staël difficult.[9]

            During the reign of Napoleon writers struggled for freedom, while literature was banned and censored based on somewhat trivial claims.  Madame de Staël was forced into exile by Napoleon in 1803, 1806, and 1810 for her written works.  She commented on the situation by saying that France became, “a garrison where military discipline and boredom rule.”[10] This is what had become of Paris during this period of censorship.  The right to free speech and press was overlooked, while Napoleons political, as well as moral views stood in the way.


Coffin, Victor. “Censorship and Literature Under Napoleon I.” The American Historical Review Vol. 22, no. 2 (1917): 288-308

Holland Rose, J.. “The Censorship under Napoleon I.” Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law, New Series Vol 18, no. 1 (1918): 58-65.

Horne, Alistair. The Age of Napoleon. New York, NY: The Modern Library, 2006.


[1] Coffin, 288

[2] Rose, 60

[3] Rose, 62

[4] This is not to say that these were the only categories but a large bulk of the censored material fits into these groupings.

[5] Rose, 62

[6] Rose, 62

[7] Rose, 63

[8] Horne, 127

[9] Coffin, 303

[10] Horne, 136