but Free Americans Can Still Read Them

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

Curators' conversation
Curators' conversation
Curators' conversation
“Now the symbolism of book burning has continued as an enduring symbol, not in the way that the German students intended it, but in the way that it has become an analogue to censorship and suppression and the destruction of the free exchange of ideas.”
— Curators Guy Stern and Steve Goodell discuss Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings, February 2003


  The imagery of fire
“The book burning, apart from the censorship, was really a symbolic act.”

Playing time 1:23

  The role of students and the academic community
“And the students themselves seemed very very conscious of putting themselves into a tradition of book burning.”

Playing time 2:26

  The spectrum of targeted ideas
“What’s being attacked are ideas. And a spectrum of ideas, which is represented by the selection of books.”

Playing time 1:34

  Oscar Maria Graf and the Nazi blacklist
“Now to some authors it was an honor to be included in the blacklist and to be burned.”

Playing time 1:17


  Political cartoon: “On the Altars of the Nazis”
“A cartoon that appeared in the Daily Worker on May 11th, 1933 ... It shows two great slabs, and then on the top of one are burning books, and on the top of the other are burning bodies.”

Playing time 1:24

  Helen Keller’s response to the book burnings
“And in these blacklists American authors appeared, and as American authors saw their names, because this was widely reported before the fact, ... a number of them began to respond. One in particular was Helen Keller.”

Playing time 1:59

  Columnist Walter Lippman’s warning that “Hitler is driving towards war”
“Walter Lippmann, one of the most respected columnists at that time, said ‘this is the first indication that this man Hitler is driving towards war.’”

Playing time 1:10

  American responses to the book burnings
“But in the United States, married to the First Amendment, it became a shock event. And people responded to it ... by protest marches.”

Playing time 2:29

  Alfred Kantorowicz and the library of burned books
“Alfred Kantorowicz was almost obsessed with this horrible act of 1933. And so he started a library of burned books as early as his immigration to Paris.”

Playing time 3:23

  The difficulties faced by writers in exile
“The exiles who did make it, the emigre writers, found it very difficult.”

Playing time 1:57

  Exiled writers as voices against fascism
“And sometimes there were people whose writings, as you rightly state, were not at all in any way giving offense, but they by their public declarations had become anathema to the Nazis.”

Playing time 2:10


  The “Four Freedoms” and “Books are Weapons in the War of Ideas”
“The ‘Four Freedoms’ became a definition of war aims and it’s interesting that the first of those freedoms was found in freedom of expression, and the antithesis of that was given perfect visual representation by the book burnings.”

Playing time 2:35

  The Office of War Information
“The Office of War Information ... didn’t until 1944 report very much if at all on the major difference between what we would celebrate in America and what we would define as the nature of the enemy, and that is what it would call atrocities or the mass murder of Jews.”

Playing time 2:34

  Ray Bradbury and Steven Vincent Benet
“The whole book was inspired by the Nazi book burnings.”

Playing time 1:18


  Response to an American-staged book burning
“At the end of the war all of a sudden an American-staged book burning took place...”

Playing time 1:50

  The book burnings and artistic symbolism
“Now the symbolism of book burning has continued as an enduring symbol, not in the way that the German students intended it, but in the way that it has become an analogue to censorship and suppression and the destruction of the free exchange of ideas.”

Playing time 2:19

  Investigations and censorship during the McCarthy era
“And in terms of the selection of books which would tell the foreign visitor something about America, American values and ideals, which include obviously the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, [the America House Libraries] came under attack in the early ’50s by the McCarthy committee, the Senate Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigations...”

Playing time 2:30

  President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Don’t join the book burners”
“This was a period in American history of great anxiety, great fear, it was the beginning of the Cold War...”

Playing time 1:22

  Postwar fears
“These were the seeds that grew to full flowering, so to speak, in the era of McCarthy when all sorts of people, both immigrants and native-born Americans, were under suspicion.”

Playing time 4:00

  The enduring symbol of the book burnings
“The symbol is so transportable. Because wherever free enquiring minds are active, they abhor being told what to read, what not to read, or what to write, for that matter. So anybody can identify with this method of censorship.”

Playing time 2:42

  Reverberations in popular culture
“The entire last part of the exhibition shows how the image of the book burning, and what it means to America, resonates in American political debates about censorship and American literature and short stories and full novels...”

Playing time 1:31