Nazi Book Burnings

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Nazi Book Burnings                 Early in May of 1933, the Nazi party and German supporters launched a war against the literature of Jewish and Anti-Nazi writers. These events received widespread initial coverage all over America including here in Spokane, Washington. However, the story seemed to disappear disturbingly quickly from newspaper pages.

        Headed by the Nazi Minister of Public Enlightenment, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, thousands of university students and other supporters of the Nazi regime gathered books to be burned in large ceremonial bonfires as the culmination of the National Socialist student campaign against literature regarded as "breathing an un-German spirit." Although the book-burning ceremonies occurred all over Germany, most reports centered on the large and elaborate ceremonies conducted in Opera Square at Berlin University. Students carried books in a torch-lit procession to the student union through Brandenburg Gate and along the famous Unter den Linden to throw the literature into a huge bonfire.

The selected literature included the works of Hellen Keller, Franz Boas, Jack London, and 100's of German authors including Heinrich Mann, Emil Ludwig, Erich Remarque, Theodor Wolff, and George Bernhard.

        Dr. Goebbles impressed upon the students at the Berlin book burning, "As you had the right to destroy the books, you had the duty to support the government. The fire signals to the entire world that the November revolutionaries have sunk to earth and a new spirit has arisen."         The Spokesman Review first covered the book burnings in its May 10th, 1933 Wednesday morning edition. In an article released by the Associated Press, a column of the front page was dedicated to the story. Although it contained quotes from Dr. Goebbels and other details, you must keep in mind that this was an Associated Press story and not written by a local reporter. It is highly probable that this particular article was the standard response to the events released in countless papers throughout America. In the May 11th, 1933 edition the following day, The Spokesman Review released a follow-up article with much of the same information with the addition of a few more details. This article was found on page two of the Thursday edition and was shorter than the first article. Somewhat disturbingly, I was unable to find any coverage of this event in the Spokesman Review after this date. It seemingly disappeared from the news and if there were any follow-up articles, they were too miniscule for me to notice.

        The coverage of the book burnings was given much more attention in the New York Times. Possibly because New York was closer to the "action," or maybe just because the people of New York were more interested, the initial article on the front page of the May 10th, 1933 edition of the times was given a column of space along with another follow-up column on page eleven. The information included in the first article was similar to the story released in the Spokesman Review.

It dealt with mostly general information on the process of the book burning and the calls for new educational standards by Nazi educational officials. The follow-up article in the May 11th edition was quite a bit more extensive than any other article I found. Although only given a column of space on the front page of the Times, the rest of the article on page 12, spanned about 4 columns and took up nearly three quarters of the page. The second article in the Times was filled with details ranging from accounts of book burnings in different occasions, to titles and authors of literature that had been burned in the fires. However, much like the Spokesman Review, the New York Times' coverage of the book burnings virtually disappeared after the first two days of reports. I was unable to find any follow-up articles or letters regarding the Nazi burning of literature. Unless I have unfortunately missed or overlooked any more Times' coverage devoted to this event, it is disturbing to me that a paper with as much power and social responsibility as the New York Times would not have more on this issue.

As discussed in the paragraphs above, the initial coverage by both papers was somewhat standard. The second article was much more informative and in-depth in the New York Times. However, this is very much inspected from such a large and significant paper as the Times is. In terms of how much the residents of both areas new about the book burnings, I think it's safe to say that the residents of New York got much more from the articles than the people of Spokane got from the articles in the Spokesman.

To put the concern and attention given to the book burnings by the people of Spokane into perspective, in The Forum, a section of the Spokesman Review dedicated to letters to the editor, instead of responding to the book burnings of a week ago, letters ranged from complaints about the "beer arguments" of Idaho to a lady pleading with the city of Spokane to follow the street sweepers with oil to keep dust from dirtying her house. Maybe the people of Spokane didn't feel connected enough to the book burnings going on in Germany or maybe they just didn't care. Either way, the fact remains that it didn't seem to cause much of a stir in Spokane.

Much to my surprise, the amount of attention given to the Nazi book burnings by the New York Times seemed to echo the same general sense of indifference. As I've stated, the Times included more information and detail in its article than the Spokesman did. However, the articles remained strictly informational. There was no interpretation, no call to take up action, nothing of the sort. It seems to me that the reaction of America to the burning of un-German literature just didn't top the list of national priority. While reading the rest of the articles that surrounded the news of the book burnings, I realized that America had much of its own problems to be concerned about.

I honestly believe that even if the coverage in either newspaper was much more extensive, the reaction to the book burnings would have been the same. As economic inflation and the horrible depression continued to swallow America, most people couldn't be bothered by the burning of "words." To put it simply, caring about whether or not a book would get burned in Germany wasn't going to fix the problems that most readers faced at the time. Whether in New York or Spokane, the focus of most individuals was on the economy and how the government planned to pull America out of the depression it was in.