Visit the Classroom Victory Garden Project website to learn about food production during WWII, find lesson plans and activities for elementary students, get tips for starting your own garden and try out simple Victory Garden recipes!
Visit our new interactive website to learn about wartime technical and scientific advances that forever changed our world.
Turn your students into history detectives as they ponder over the origins and uses of these intriguing pieces of WWII history.
Mallory Hankins, 12th Grade
Providence Senior High School
The Smoke of Burning Freedom
The bonfire glows. The orange flames lick up the darkness and the smoke wisps away to meet the clouds. People stand around, excited by the fury of the fire and the animal nature welling up inside of them. It is shameful, for as those standing nearby feel that wild and instinctual excitement, all that makes mankind a more developed species is literally going up in smoke. The gray curls float toward the sky. But, if one looks closely, he can see that the tendrils of smoke are actually made of small black letters, rejected for their nonconformity and sent to exile among the stars. This is a book burning. There are thousands of ideas written on the pages that lay in the flames. The restriction and massacre of ideas in this way is a blatant symbol of tyranny. Thoughts should never be limited; thus, censorship is never justified.
Book burnings are a clear symbol of oppression. America, along with the other allied nations, responded to the Nazi book burnings with rage. These horrific bonfires became the symbol of Nazi censorship and were publicized in America in order to rally support against the Nazi regime. The Nazis burned books that they found offensive. Some were deemed offensive because of their subject matter, and others were deemed offensive because they were written by a Jewish author. Nevertheless, it is far better to be offended than to be oppressed. One might argue that to burn a book is simply to incinerate some ink and a few pieces of paper. However, knowledge and the opportunity to pursue it are burned along with those papers because when information is censored, freedom is censored also. Each individual maintains the right to choose what he puts into his mind. If censorship is allowed, someone has the power to decide what a nation can and cannot think about. Certainly some subjects are more appropriate than others, and third graders do not need to read The Lottery, but for a nation to keep its people ignorant is unacceptable.
In Germany during World War II, my grandfather was a prisoner of war. His family mailed him hundreds of letters during this time but many words, on both sides of correspondence, were cut out of the letters. The message then was incomplete and, in some cases, impossible to discern. This is the case with any censored material. When authors and subjects are “cut out” of a society, the knowledge of future generations remains incomplete. For example, Hitler banned all Freudian writings because Sigmund Freud was Jewish. If these books had never returned to the German public, the German people would have huge gaps in their understanding and interpretation of psychology. Unfortunately, censorship and thus these gaps in understanding remain a reality even today. My cousin is interning for a company located in China. While this experience has opened up her world tremendously, the world in which she is currently working remains very closed. Similar to the Nazi book burnings, the Chinese government is trying to restrict what its citizens can think about and learn. Alexander Pope, an English poet, once said “… a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” Censorship is a testament to fear.
Hitler was afraid of the Germans and the power they could wield with “un-German” ideas. He must have been aware of the force which books contain or else he would never have been so threatened that he waged a war against them through censorship. What he did not realize is that, with the banning of some eighteen thousand books, he gave the outlawed pages more power than ever. With his book burnings, Hitler, who saw himself fit to conquer and lead the world, publicly recognized that he knew education was a danger to his regime. He was right. In American history alone, one can see the monumental effects of literature. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense played an important role in gaining support for the colonies’ break with England, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is credited as a major cause of the Civil War. Weapons made of ink can bring change to a nation and often speak louder and stronger than any weapons made of steel.
Censorship is the fingerprint of oppression, and censorship is never justifiable. Ideas and people are a powerful combination, but the strength formed between the two is the drive that propels the world into the future. Books keep mankind from regressing and, though they may be unsettling, help people to strive for a better world than what exists. Censorship limits people’s voices, and society cannot move forward if it cannot communicate. People must have the freedom to speak, and their voices must not go up in the smoke of a bonfire.