The National World War II Museum hosts United States Holocaust Memorial Museum exhibit
April 22, 2010 (New Orleans, LA) – Just a few months after Adolf Hitler came to power in Nazi Germany and a full six years before World War II, German university students carried out an “Action Against the Un-German Spirit” targeting authors ranging from Helen Keller and Ernest Hemingway to Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. Their orchestrated book burnings across Germany would come to underscore German-Jewish writer Heinrich Heine’s 19th century warning, “where one burns books, one soon burns people.”
Through May 23, 2010, The National World War II Museum is hosting Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings, a traveling exhibition by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It provides a vivid look at the first steps the Nazis took to suppress freedom of expression, and the strong response that occurred in the United States both immediately and in the years thereafter. The exhibition focuses on how the book burnings became a potent symbol during World War II in America’s battle against Nazism, and concludes by examining their continued impact on our public discourse.
Covered widely in the media, the Nazi book burnings provoked immediate, strong reactions in the United States among writers, artists, scholars, journalists, librarians, labor unions, clergy, political figures, and others. Newspaper editorials and political cartoonists denounced the bonfires. Newsweek called it a “holocaust of books”; TIME a “bibliocaust.” American writers including Helen Keller, Lewis Mumford, and Sinclair Lewis – some of whose books had been consigned to the flames – wrote open letters condemning the book burnings. The American Jewish Congress organized massive street demonstrations in more than a dozen U.S. cities to protest Nazi persecution of Jews, using May 10 and the book burnings to broaden the coalition of anti-Nazi groups.
“Americans were deeply offended by the book burnings, which were a gross assault against their core values,” said United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Curator Ted Phillips. “Their response was intense, in fact so strong that throughout the war the government used the book burnings to help define the nature of the enemy to the American public. Unfortunately, the systematic murder of Europe’s Jews was not seen as a compelling case for fighting Nazism.”
As World War II progressed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt would evoke the book burnings as a vivid example of the difference between a democratic America and Nazi Germany. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt condemned the book burnings in her daily newspaper column. The exhibition also focuses on how organizations ranging from the Library of Congress, the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, and the National Council of Women to the Writer’s War Board, the Council on Books in Wartime, and the Office of War Information used the 1943 10th anniversary of the book burnings to rally Americans around the war effort. It documents how the importance of books and the free marketplace of ideas were given currency through the slogan “Books Are Weapons in the War of Ideas,” which appeared in posters, proclamations, radio broadcasts, and scores of other outlets.
The exhibition concludes with the postwar years, exploring how the Nazi book burnings have continued to resonate in American politics, literature, and popular culture. It features post-war evocations of book burnings, including a McCarthy-era speech in which President Eisenhower urged Dartmouth graduates, “Don’t join the book burners”; films such as Pleasantville and Field of Dreams; episodes of The Waltons and M*A*S*H; the death threats against Salman Rushdie; and the public burning of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.
Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings will run through May 23, 2010 at The National World War II Museum.
Fighting the Fires of Hate–America and the Nazi Book Burnings is organized and circulated by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Find out more at www.ushmm.org.
The National World War II Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world – why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National World War II Museum, it celebrates the American Spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifice of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and the Home Front. For more information, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit www.nationalww2museum.org.