Authors & Works
Artifacts speak for themselves

On the day of book burnings in Germany, massive crowds march from New York's Madison Square Garden to protest Nazi oppression and anti-Jewish persecution. New York City, United States, May 10, 1933. National Archives and Records Administration / USHMM #69040

American media coverage gave iconic status to a panoramic shot of the May 10 book burning in Berlin. The photograph was featured in the center of the May 27 cover of News-Week magazine. It shows (lower left of image) the stepladders and tripods of German cameramen who provided the publicity sought by the German Student Association. Newsweek, May 27, 1933 / USHMM #20035A1D


New York City's Yiddish-language daily newspaper The Forward advocated social justice and Jewish rights. It vigorously protested Nazi policies. On May 10, 1933, the newspaper's editorial cartoon showed Adolf Hitler (The Führer) wielding a torch for his cartload of books by (top to bottom) Heine, Braune, Remarque, Einstein, Thomas Mann, Emil Ludwig, Moses Mendelssohn, Wassermann, and Lessing. The Forward, May 10, 1933 / USHMM #2003EPDQ


Portrait of Helen Keller, ca. 1910. Blind and deaf since infancy, by 1933 Helen Keller was a revered symbol of victory over incredible adversity. Dispatches from Berlin about the burning of books--her own among them--left Keller "deeply hurt over the whole matter," according to her companion, Polly Thompson. Moved to write an open letter to the German students, Keller affirmed the enduring power of ideas against tyranny. Library of Congress


Thomas Mann, seen here in Germany before the war. Mann (1875-1955) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929. In 1933 his political writings were blacklisted and burned, but after Mann declared solidarity with other exiled writers, the Nazis stripped him of his citizenship and rescinded his academic honors. Mann went into exile in 1933 and emigrated to the United States in 1939. In his frequent wartime radio addresses, Mann repeatedly recalled the book burnings and had himself introduced, both in broadcasts on U.S. networks and in speeches intended for Germany, as a writer "whose books had been burned." Mann returned to Europe in 1952 and settled in Switzerland, where he died in 1955. Library of Congress





United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Fighting the fires of hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings
Immediate American Responses



While some American editorial responses to the Nazi book burnings made light of the event and referred to the "extra-curricular activities" of Nazi students, others forecast the dawning of a dark age. In a political cartoon entitled "On the Altars of the Nazis," Jacob Burck evoked the prophetic observation by 19th-century German writer Heinrich Heine: "Where one burns books, one will soon burn people." This cartoon shows two pyres, the "altars of the Nazis"--Nazi victims, and condemned books. The piece was printed in the Daily Worker (Chicago), May 11, 1933. United States Department of Labor / USHMM #2003CLFP



Anti-fascist organizations, American Jewish groups, and numerous writers, scholars, and journalists recognized the ominous intent of the Nazi “culture war” that made blood and race the source of inspiration. The American Jewish Congress hoped to broaden the coalition of anti-Nazi Americans by using the May 10 book burnings as a unifying cause. It urged mass street demonstrations to take place that same day. As the German literary blacklists circulated in the press, American authors published declarations of solidarity with their condemned brethren. Throughout the 1930s, as the flood of German émigré writers rose, American literary organizations provided aid where they could in response to the crisis.

COLUMNIST WALTER LIPPMAN'S WARNING THAT "HITLER IS DRIVING TOWARDS WAR"
COLUMNIST WALTER LIPPMAN'S WARNING THAT “HITLER IS DRIVING TOWARDS WAR”   

Historical film
Historical film
DEMONSTRATIONS
On May 10, 1933, the same day as the book burnings in Germany, massive street demonstrations took place in dozens of American cities. Skillfully organized by the American Jewish Congress, the demonstrators protested the relentless Nazi attacks upon Jews: the continued harassment, police raids, arrests, and beatings, as well as the destruction of Jewish property and the boycott of Jewish businesses. In the largest demonstration in New York City history up to that date, 100,000 people marched for more than six hours to protest events in Germany and the burning of books. Other mass demonstrations by a variety of American groups took place in cities across the country, including Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Chicago.

AMERICAN RESPONSES TO THE BOOK BURNINGS
AMERICAN RESPONSES TO THE BOOK BURNINGS   

AMERICAN PRESS RESPONSE

American newspapers nationwide reported both the Nazi bonfires and the American protests. Editorial opinion was nearly unanimous in its condemnation but uneven in its rhetoric. Some newspapers called the German student actions “silly,” “ineffective,” “senseless,” or “infantile.” The New Yorker made light of the “extra-curricular activities” of Nazi students.” Essayist E. B. White joked, “We never burn books except to keep them out of the hands of the grand jury.” But others, such as Ludwig Lewisohn of The Nation, forecast the dawning of a “dark age,” an “insane” assault “against the life of the mind, intellectual values, and the rights of the human spirit.” In its coverage of the Berlin book burnings, News-Week employed the term “Holocaust” as a header introduction to its weekly report of news in Germany. The May 27 issue of News-Week featured an image of the Berlin book burning on the front cover. The Nation presented the book burnings as a pagan ritual for Nazi henchmen, Prussian militarists, monocled industrialists, SA thugs, and corrupted Hitler Youth. New York City’s Forward, a Yiddish-language daily that advocated social justice and Jewish rights, vigorously protested Nazi policies. On May 10, the newspaper’s editorial cartoon (titled The Führer) showed Hitler wielding a torch for a cartload of books. Its May 14, 1933, issue featured a full page of photographs identifying notable authors whose books were destroyed.

POLITICAL CARTOON: "ON THE ALTARS OF THE NAZIS"
POLITICAL CARTOON: “ON THE ALTARS OF THE NAZIS”   

WRITERS

i. Authors
Responding to the act of “national drunkenness” enveloped in “a stupid ceremony,” as Thomas Mann later described the Nazi book burnings, a number of American writers publicly condemned the German student “action.” When German authors became writers-in-exile, their American counterparts, notably members of the leftist League of American Writers, made efforts to help the émigrés and their dependents escape Europe by providing money, visas, shelter, food packages, grants, affidavits of support, as well as book and screenwriting contracts.

Blind and deaf since infancy, by 1933 Helen Keller was a revered symbol of victory over incredible adversity. Dispatches from Berlin about the burning of books—her own among them—left Keller “deeply hurt over the whole matter,” according to her companion, Polly Thompson. Moved to write an open letter to German students, Keller affirmed the enduring power of ideas against tyranny. The letter appeared on the front page of the New York Times and in hundreds of other American newspapers. Stung by the publicity surrounding Helen Keller’s letter, the Nazi propaganda ministry questioned whether her books had been blacklisted, then dismissed the bonfires as unofficial, “spontaneous acts by the German Students Association.” In 1937, she ordered all her books dropped from German sales lists, expressing dismay over “Germany’s antisemitic atrocities, fear-clamping state control over lives and home, [and] imprisonment of thousands without trial.” Hitler’s suppression of “fundamental liberties without which a nation’s soul is dead” had made Germany a place of “chattel slavery, idolatry, and infringement upon Christian consciences.”

HELEN KELLER'S RESPONSE TO THE BOOK BURNINGS
HELEN KELLER'S RESPONSE TO THE BOOK BURNINGS   

ii. P.E.N.
International P.E.N. (poets, playwrights, essayists, editors, and novelists) was founded in 1912 to foster worldwide literary friendships, build bridges over cultural frontiers, and to work on behalf of free expression wherever it was endangered. In April 1933, the Nazis purged the German P.E.N. Center of Communists, Jews, and writers holding liberal views. The P.E.N. International Congress in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, on May 26, 1933—two weeks after the book burnings—immediately witnessed a confrontation that occurred when some delegates accused the Germans of violating the organization’s principles. After a motion passed to allow a speech by Ernst Toller, a German Jewish dramatist-in-exile, whose works had been burned, the German delegation walked out in protest.


EXILES AND AID TO REFUGEES

EXILED WRITERS AS VOICES AGAINST FASCISM
EXILED WRITERS AS VOICES AGAINST FASCISM   

The expulsion of Jews and political opponents from universities, the book burnings, and the continuing acts of persecution prompted writers, artists, doctors, and other professionals to flee Germany. Though America seemed a haven for intellectual émigrés, for most refugees an exclusionary immigration policy was the reality. U.S. consular officials reflected American anti-alien, anti-refugee, and to a certain degree antisemitic attitudes. They narrowly interpreted the immigration laws that imposed quotas and required assurance the emigrant would not become a public charge. The obstacles were formidable, but between 1933 and 1941, with assistance from private groups, as many as 200,000 immigrants from Nazi Germany reached American shores.

In contrast to the relative inaction of the U.S. government, dozens of private, ad hoc volunteer organizations responded to the 1933 crisis and the displacement of German students, academics, and artists. Alvin Johnson, director of the New School for Social Research, quickly secured funds from benefactor Hiram Halle and by year’s end, assembled a faculty of fifteen émigré social scientists as the nucleus of a “University in Exile.” The Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars, founded by Stephen Duggan, director of the Institute of International Education, worked with museum directors, librarians, and university presidents to rescue and find employment for eminent academics representing the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and medicine.


THE DIFFICULTIES FACED BY WRITERS IN EXILE
THE DIFFICULTIES FACED BY WRITERS IN EXILE   

Beginning in May 1933, the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars made grants to dozens of academic institutions to create honorary professorships with the aid of Jewish philanthropy, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and the Oberlaender Trust. Over its 12-year history, the committee supported 355 displaced scholars and professionals out of more than 6,000 applicants. Before joining the European staff of the Columbia Broadcasting System, 25-year-old Edward R. Murrow served as secretary to the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars.

In the aftermath of the book burnings, most of the blacklisted authors managed to flee Germany. A number of authors, however, including Erich Mühsam and
Carl von Ossietzky, were not as fortunate. They remained trapped in Germany and died after imprisonment and torture in concentration camps. Many who escaped found it difficult to start life anew. Some despaired and chose suicide, including Kurt Tucholsky, Ernst Toller, and Stefan Zweig. During the 1930s, émigré writers were chiefly responsible for keeping the memory of the book burnings before the American public, profiling themselves publicly as victims of the Nazi autos-da-fé through exhibits, lectures, commemorations, and, in 1938, a demonstration at the German consulate in New York City.

ALFRED KANTOROWICZ AND THE LIBRARY OF BURNED BOOKS
ALFRED KANTOROWICZ AND THE LIBRARY OF BURNED BOOKS   


Henry Seidel Canby, the American delegate to the P.E.N. congress, recalled in his American Memoir the atmosphere surrounding the confrontation. In a chapter titled “A Taste of Blood in the Mouth,” he wrote: “I felt rather than saw a chill spreading [and a] visible fear rising like a cold fire.” The applause, hisses, and shouts shocked Canby’s sensibilities: “What was a row over principle for English and Americans, and an affirmation of faith, was for these Europeans, imaginative men and women all of them, a quick vision of armies in their cities and bombs on their homes.”

Discussion
Related Links
American Jewish Congress

American Federation for the Blind: Helen Keller Archives

German Jewish Refugees, 1933-1939

Concentration Camps, 1933-1939

USHMM Library Bibliography: 1933 Book Burnings

USHMM Public Program: Music in Exile concert series

Writers in Extremis. Essay by curator Guy Stern

The Book Burning, The Exiles, The American Public. 1985 essay by curator Guy Stern


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