Term Paper: Unconscious: Book Burnings in WWII

Pages: 7 (2145 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 7  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … Unconscious: Book Burnings in WWII

Long before the Nazis burned the books of German Jewish poet, essayist, and literary critic Heinrich Heine, he wrote, "Where one burns books, one burns humanity."[footnoteRef:1] The phrase is remarkably incisive. It was precisely human diversity that Nazis sought to eradicate from society when they burned books. Roughly 10,000 volumes were systematically burned in fifty-plus cities in order to eliminate them from German public life for all time.[footnoteRef:2] Authors of the books deemed unsuitable were humiliated, persecuted, and murdered. [1: ____ (2013). Library of Burned Books to Recall Nazi Barbarism. Deutsche Welle. (DW Top Stories). http://www.dw.de/library-of-burned-books-to-recall-nazi-barbarism/a-2018048-1] [2: Ibid. ]

Targeting Books to Burn, Authors to Disparage

The vehicle for the Nazi book burning was the German Student Union, which -- on April 6 of 1933 -- proclaimed a national "Action against the Un-German Spirit."[footnoteRef:3][footnoteRef:4] The broad swath this criteria covered included books that were considered to be anarchist (subversive or ideologically undermining the National Socialist administration), classic liberal, communist, Jewish, pacifist, and socialist. Functionally, the book burning was considered to be a cleaning (Sauberung) by fire. The literary purge received a great deal of press, including radio broadcast time and commissioned feature articles, while prominent Nazi figures sponsored and attended the public gatherings. In an attempt to co-opt credibility, the Student Union evoked Martin Luther. They released Twelve Theses and recalled the "Non-German" book burning that took place on the 300th anniversary of the posting of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses at the Wartburg festival.[footnoteRef:5] Luther's theses had emphasized the desirability of a "pure" national culture and language. The relation between the Twelve Theses and the Ninety-Five was the argument that the falsehoods were being perpetrated by the Roman curia regarding the selling of indulgences (forgiveness for past sins) and by Jewish writers who were purported to be lying when they wrote in German rather than Hebrew. On May 10th, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, was said to have declared to the enormous crowd, No to decadence and moral corruption! Yes to decency and morality in family and state!" [3: (2013). The Burning of the Books. The Jewish Virtual Library. The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/bookburn.html] [4: ] [5: Treu, Martin (2003). Martin Luther in Wittenberg: a biographical tour. Wittenberg: Saxon-Anhalt Luther Memorial Foundation. p. 15. ISBN 978-3-9808619-4-6. OCLC 60519808.]

Someone to Blame

Political, social, and economic troubles in Europe in the years following World War was a perfect storm for seeking something -- someone -- to blame for the overwhelming problems the people faced. Liberal democracy became a target as the German people sought solace in the solidarity of conformity. Whenever and wherever it occurs, this set of circumstances fosters what is familiarly known as nationalism -- a nationalism that would by its very nature reject any long-tail diversity. It would particularly segregate from Jewish intellectualism, which was viewed as a direct threat to efforts to purify German literature, language, universities, and culture. The German students sought a unified Germany instead of the patchwork of disparate states that existed. Undergirding the burgeoning German nationalism was the Nazi interest in Gleichschaltung, the aligning cultural organizations and professional associations with Nazi ideology and policy.[footnoteRef:6] [6: (2013). Book Burning, Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005852]

The Burning of Helen Keller Books

Quite naturally, Helen Keller had a distinctive view of diversity. She was a strong proponent of social justice and used her writing to champion people with disabilities, to promote pacifism, to improve the working conditions of those holding jobs in industry, and to further the cause of voting rights for women.[footnoteRef:7] To the Nazi regime, her message -- though much of what she argued for was in line with what people in Germany were seeking through their folk movement -- was degenerate: "I am a socialist because I believe that socialism will solve the misery of the world -- give work to the man who is hungry and idle and at least give to little children the right to be born free."[footnoteRef:8] [7: Op. Cit., United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.] [8: Keller, H. (1921). "Brutal Treatment of the Unemployed," Sacramento Star newspaper. ]

Feelings and Thoughts Associated with Book Burning

In a tit-for-tat exchange, Helen Keller asserted that burning books would not eradicate ideas, and though she donated royalties earned in Germany to German veterans who were blind because of the war, the Nazis still burned her book How I Became a Socialist (Wie ich Sozialistin wurde)[footnoteRef:9]. The sentiment generated by this response to the compassion of a person with such severe disabilities as Helen Keller is something akin to aghast. Helen Keller hardly seems to fit with many others in the group of authors whose books were burned. However, as the Nazis expanded their discrimination and destruction into the German art world, the Helen Keller piece of the puzzle fits. Nazi taste in art ran to the parochial and had a distinctive volks appearance and appeal. Despite her complex and debilitating handicaps, Helen Keller was able to push the envelope on acceptable participation and roles of women in modern society. She did not in any way fit the German hausfrau mold, and so was seen as a threat to the peaceful conformity of women in a post-war world. [9: Ibid. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/art icle.php?ModuleId=10006083]

Psychological Inheritance

In order to focus on the psychological inheritance associated with the material unconscious of the burning of Helen Keller's book, it is important to hold her book at the center of the experience. If attention shifts to the place -- either the place(s) where the books were burned or to the country of Germany as the place -- it becomes difficult to keep just one author's book wholly in mind. The boundaries of the psychological inheritance of the book burning blur because of the magnitude of the happenings and because of the absolute horror associated with subsequent occurrences. Germany wears a cloak of shame still, and though the psychological influence has morphed as it has been subjected to humor -- sometimes subtle, sometimes not -- the world is by and large still wary of German intent.

Book Burning Manifested Today

By keeping the book as an object clearly in view, it is possible to consider it more as burdened ephemera.[footnoteRef:10] The perceived value of ephemera is related to its commonness. How many copies of the ephemera item exist? And is the object more precious solely because its existence was just barely enabled today? Brown (1997) sets the example for considering the historical perspective of perceived objects. In fact, Ian F.A. Bell of American Studies in the UK is of the opinion that Brown is trying to rethink "the relations between material, intellectual, and literary history" in order to accomplish a cultural diagnosis of Stephen Crane's analysis of ephemera. He wrote: [10: Brown, W. (1997). The material unconscious: American amusement, Stephen Crane, and the economics of play. World Publishing. ISBN 9780674553811]

"In trying to rethink the relations between material, intellectual and literary history, Bill Brown has produced an adventurously researched and especially rich cultural diagnosis of [Stephen] Crane's America. His diagnosis understands that history's most effective force in literature is to linger on obliquely in ghostly form, pleading its case with some shyness from that hollow place which echoes material life. We know it by its ephemeral shadow."[footnoteRef:11] [11: Ian F.A. Bell, American Studies. Book Review. [UK]]

The works subjected to the book burning have taken on a special gloss and convey a value of the culture and society that is today dominant. Were it not for the book burning, these works of art and literature would still be classified as great contributions, but their vulnerability has made them all the more a literary focus. The material conscious of the object destroyed has been transferred to the idea of the object.

The material unconscious of the book burnings is clearly evident in a contemporary public that reads with considerable astonishment that books have been banned in one institution or another -- or by one special interest group or another. Consider that freedom of expression is a rock solid value of the digital generation. Anything short of absolute access to information is considered to be unacceptable -- and those who provide access, even when it is unauthorized, may be looked upon as heroes of the demos. In contemporary society, the keepers of digital ephemera -- the geeks and hackers and techies of the world -- are viewed with a mix of awe for their extraordinary skills and high regard for what is interpreted as behavior not unlike that of a knight. In this world of technology mavericks, the protection of intellectual property is seen as a cop-out to the purer motivations of those who would keep the World Wide Web a free place for sharing ideas and fundamental communication.

Clearly one legacy of the book burning and of the censorship it attempted is that free societies across the globe consider protection of the freedoms associated with speech,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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