Authors & Works
Artifacts speak for themselves

Early in April 1933, the German Student Association's Main Office for Press and Propaganda proclaimed a nationwide “Action against the Un-German Spirit,” to climax in a literary purge. In twelve "theses," the association outlined the requisites of a "pure" national language and culture that had to be "cleansed" of Jewish and other foreign or treasonous influences. Four of the twelve pronouncements singled out Jewish "falsifications." Posters distributed throughout Germany announced the action, and placards publicized the students' "theses." Staatsarchiv Würzburg / USHMM #200396NQ

The Nazi book burning ceremonies were planned with meticulous attention to detail. This sketch shows how student organizers at the University of Cologne planned such aspects as speakers' platforms and seating arrangements. However, rain forced the postponement of the event until May 17. Universitätsarchiv Köln / USHMM #20033I5Y

Joseph Goebbels, German propaganda minister, speaks on the night of book burning. Berlin, Germany, May 10, 1933. USHMM #85339a

Major book burnings, May 1933 USHMM #ger76090

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Fighting the fires of hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings
The Book Burning

The book burning ceremonies were planned with meticulous attention to detail. This invitation to the book burning in Munich outlines the order of events: invitees "must arrive at the designated area at precisely 11 p.m. At 11 p.m. the torchlight procession of the entire Munich Students Association will be arriving. 1. The united bands will play parade music 2. The festivities will begin at 11 with the song "Brothers, Forward!" 3. Speech by the leader of the German Students Association Kurt Ellersiek 4. Burning of the nation-corrupting books and journals 5. Group sing-along of ... songs". Landeshauptstadt München, Stadtarchiv / USHMM #2003ZY47

For Americans, the iconography of Nazism is found in the swastika, the jackboot, the Nazi banner. But another symbol—flames and fire—accompanied the Third Reich from its strident inception to its apocalyptic demise. On January 30, 1933, torchlight parades announced the onset of the Nazi revolution. One month later, the flames of the Reichstag fire consumed the last vestiges of the Weimar Constitution.

German university students were among the vanguard of the Nazi movement, and in the late 1920s, many filled the ranks of various Nazi groups. Middle-class, secular student organizations had expressed an intense and vocal ultra-nationalism and antisemitism for decades. After World War I, most students opposed the
Weimar Republic (1919–1933) and found in Nazism a suitable vehicle for their political discontent and hostility.


On April 6, 1933, the German Students Association’s Main Office for Press and Propaganda proclaimed a nationwide “Action against the Un-German Spirit,” to climax in a literary purge or “cleansing” (Säuberung) by fire. Local chapters were to supply the press with releases and commissioned articles, sponsor well-known Nazi figures to speak at public gatherings, and negotiate for radio broadcast time. On April 8, the students association also drafted its twelve “theses” — deliberately evocative of Martin Luther — declarations and requisites of a “pure” national language and culture. Placards publicized the students’ “theses,” which attacked “Jewish intellectualism,” asserted the need to “purify” the German language and literature, and demanded that universities be centers of German nationalism. The students described the proclaimed “action” as a response to a worldwide Jewish “smear campaign” against Germany and an affirmation of traditional German values.


On May 10, 1933, in a symbolic act of ominous significance, the students burned upwards of 25,000 volumes of “un-German” books, presaging an era of state censorship and control of culture. That night, in most university towns, right-wing students marched in torchlight parades “against the un-German spirit.” Rituals scripted for the event called for high Nazi officials, professors, university rectors, and student leaders to address the participants and spectators. At the meeting places, students threw the pillaged and unwanted books into the bonfires with great joyous ceremony, band-playing, parades, songs, and “fire oaths.”

Although the German Students Association had planned the book burnings for May 10, some were postponed a few days because of rain. Based on local chapter preference, others took place on June 21, the summer solstice, a traditional date of celebration. Nonetheless, in 34 university towns across Germany the book burning was a success, attracting widespread newspaper coverage. In some places, notably Berlin, radio broadcasts transmitted the speeches, songs, and ceremonial incantations live to countless German listeners.

Historical film
Historical film
“German men and women! The age of arrogant Jewish intellectualism is now at an end! . . . You are doing the right thing at this midnight hour—to consign to the flames the unclean spirit of the past. This is a great, powerful, and symbolic act. . . . Out of these ashes the phoenix of a new age will arise. . . . Oh Century! Oh Science! It is a joy to be alive!” Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and and Propaganda, speaking at the Berlin book burning, May 10, 1933.

Related Links
Germany: Establishment of the Nazi Dictatorship

Third Reich

Culture in the Third Reich

Nazi Propaganda

Artist on the Blacklist: Ludwig Meidner

USHMM Library Bibliography: 1933 Book Burnings

Book Burning

The Burning of the Books in Nazi Germany, 1933: The American Response. 1985 essay by curator Guy Stern