The Nazi Book Burnings
The Nazi assault on freedom of expression and cultural life began almost immediately following Hitler’s January 1933 appointment as Chancellor of Germany by Reich President Hindenburg.
Restrictions on Freedom of Speech and the Press
In February 1933, the “Decree for the Protection of the German People” severely limited the freedoms of speech and the press, and gave police broad latitude in confiscating and banning “undesirable” literature. Later that month, the “Decree of the Reich President of the Protection of People and State” declared a national state of emergency that suspended all Weimar constitutional liberties including freedom of speech and the right to assemble. In March the “Law for the Removal of the Distress of People and Reich,” referred to as the Enabling Act, allowed the Führer to issue laws without the Reichstag’s consent, laying the foundation for the complete Nazification of German society.
Although at that point the Nazi party controlled all aspects of German cultural and intellectual life, it was not officially responsible for the May 1933 book burnings that occurred throughout the nation. The German Students Association, an independent organization of German university students that supported the Nazi party and its aims, coordinated these events. On April 6, 1933, its Main Office for Press and Propaganda proclaimed a nationwide “Action Against the Un-German Spirit” that resulted in a purge of all literature deemed “anti-German.”
A committee of librarians led by Dr. Wolfgang Hermann, a Nazi functionary charged with reorganizing the Berlin Library, helped the German Students Association develop the first blacklist. It condemned books by Jews, Marxists, socialists, liberals, “cultural decadents,” modernists, pacifists, and pan-Europeanists, as well as monographs on human sexuality and works praising the Weimar Republic. By the May book burnings it named 346 authors as purveyors of “un-German” popular and political literature. Students—sometimes accompanied by local police and Nazi Storm Troopers—cleared some or all of those works from bookstores and public, university, and personal libraries, consigning them to the flames.
In October 1935, the Nazi government published the first official list of banned authors and their works. The blacklists developed by the German Students Association formed the basis for this codified list of censored materials.