|The Greatest Hate Crime: The Burning of German Books
|For all the readily available information about the infamous "Nazi book burnings", next to nothing is
mentioned of a far greater book burning: that which transpired during the Allied "re-education" of
Germans after their defeat in World War Two.
It is estimated that over a third of all German books had already been destroyed by bombing in West
Germany alone*, and this does not include those books in the areas taken from Germany after the
war. Added to the millions of German books destroyed world wide during the anti-German hysteria
of World War One, far more German books were destroyed in the twentieth century than likely exist
today. But before we discuss it further, let us go back in time a bit.
Until the advent of the printing press, books were hand-scribed and existed in only one or a few
copies. Burning them ensured that no one would ever read them. One man would soon change that.
In 1454, Johannes Gutenberg began to print the first book made by movable type. He put six presses
in operation and he set type for his most monumental task: printing the entire Bible. At the time,
Bibles were rare and hard to find. Even Martin Luther did not see a complete Bible until adulthood.
Gutenberg’s excellent workmanship paid off and his Bible was the first book ever printed considered
by many to be the most beautiful book as well. Each Bible had 1,282 pages with 42 lines on a page
divided into two columns. He printed 300 copes of each page and bound them to make 300 identical
Bibles. In 1519, there were only 900 books printed in Germany. By 1521, there were half a million
Luther bibles alone printed.
Now German rather than Latin Bibles were published at such a low price that the masses could own
and read one without priestly interpretation. Within 50 years, more than nine million copies of books
had been printed, and book burning was no longer an effective thought-control measure.
Little is known about Gutenberg and not a single proven portrait of him exists, but he may have
looked down from the heavens as Germany’s first official censorship office was established 20 years
after his bible was printed and a local Archbishop pleaded with town officials to censor “dangerous
publications.” In England, Henry VIII required printers to submit all manuscripts to Church of
England for approval, and he outlawed all imported publications in 1529. French king Francis I issued
an edict prohibiting the printing of books in 1535. By 1559, in reaction to the spread of Protestantism
and scientific inquiry, the Roman Catholic Church issued the Index Librorum Prohibitorum to guide
censors as to which publications to allow. This Index of eventually 5,000 titles, existed until 1966.
While the European kings and priests were busy burning, over in the new world of 1650, the Puritan
general court in Massachusetts confiscated and condemned a religious pamphlet by William Pynchon
and it was burned in the Boston marketplace in what was probably the first American book-burning.
Beginning with the 1735 trial of New York publisher John Peter Zenger, however, the laws
governing censorship in the United States have been clear. Truth is an absolute protection for those
charged with making hurtful, damaging, or embarrassing statements about anyone or anything.
Zenger was a German immigrant who came to America as an indentured servant and experienced
tyranny in his new homeland first hand. Against incredible odds he succeeded in a world which had
regarded him as an inferior. Yet so strong was his faith in freedom and in the rights of man to form
his own opinions, that he risked his life for these tenets of a free society. Zenger's Trial
During the Age of Enlightenment, more freedom to read material of one's choice was enjoyed in
Europe than in today's European Union, and this contributed to an intellectually curious society. But
soon calls for censorship arose, cloaked in sanctimonious prattle such as "preventing corruption of
the young" (ironically a concept often cited in the German censorship laws today).
Later, in the USA, Special Agent of the U.S. Post Office Anthony Comstock founded the "New
York Society for the Suppression of Vice" in 1872 and convinced Congress to pass the “Comstock
Law” which banned the mailing of “lewd, indecent, filthy or obscene” materials which included,
among other classics, The Arabian Nights, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata.
Authors Censored under the Comstock Law include Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott
Fitzgerald, Victor Hugo, D.H. Lawrence, John Steinbeck, and Eugene O’Neill.
We might think those days were long behind a progressive society, but not under certain
circumstances, and "re-education" of Germans was one a circumstance.
The Allied consensus upon victory was the doctrine of collective guilt: all Germans, young or old,
shared the blame for the war. The idea was entrenched enough that it caused no surprise when U.S.
President Harry S. Truman refused to alleviate the famine of the German population in December,
1945, stating : “though all Germans might not be guilty for the war, it would be too difficult to try to
single out for better treatment those who had nothing to do with the Nazi regime and its crimes.”
Apparently this applied even to babies and young children. It was during this time, when German
cities were in rubble, millions were dead or missing and anywhere up to 20 million homeless
Germans were living on food rations of less than 1,000 calories a day, that both the British and the
Americans took control of German media to instill a sense of collective guilt in the population.
Not only was there was unfettered plunder and looting of German libraries and schools, the
Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) had
been fully organized in anticipation of victory and almost instantly embarked upon an intense, well-
mapped psychological propaganda campaign for the purpose of developing a German sense of
collective guilt and, using the American controlled German media, launched a massive campaign to
shock and subjugate the German mind. This including control over what they read. SHAEF
All German literature found in both the Soviet and the Western Occupation Zones was subjected to
censorship. In the U.S. zone, it was regulated by the occupation directive JCS 1067 valid until July
1947, and in the May 1946 order valid for all zones until 1950. Allied Control Authority Order No. 4
stated: "Confiscation of Literature and Material of a Nazi and Militarist Nature" dictated that all
confiscated literature was reduced to pulp instead of burning to avoid accusations of book burning!
Unfortunately, those in charge of disposal often didn't know Goethe from Goofy, and thousands of
innocuous, even rare, books were "pulped".
The first such list of material was followed by three supplements, totaling 35,000 books and a ban
was applied to all textbooks published from 1933 to 1945. All such publications and materials were
ordered by the Allied "re-education" teams to be "released to the Commanders of each Zone to be
destroyed" and all books having "National Socialist propaganda, racial teachings and calls to violence
or propaganda directed against the United Nations, etc." were removed from all libraries, schools,
universities, research institutes, academies, technical or academic societies, bookstores, publishing
houses and even from some private homes...and then destroyed. This massive, haphazard vandalism
was carried out by unqualified people from 1946 to 1952, and many books were lost forever due to
careless storage and handling, all under the battle cry of making the world a safer place.
This was the greatest campaign of book destruction of all time and ended up being applied not only
to the offending books, but to poetry, philosophy, musical verse, calendars, horse books, books
about trade and agriculture, driving manuals, books about flowers, home building, barns, astronomy,
plumbing, poets, tennis and books about gardening. Hundreds of years of German history and culture
were lost due to this arrogant abuse of authority, brazen incompetence and total ignorance.
Books about birds made the list, as well as books by Friedrich the Great and Bismarck and antique
European military history books. Popular children's books, including rare editions of the Brothers
Grimm, were pulped on the grounds that they "provoked violence." Everything about the Olympic
Games of 1936 was banned. Books by the ancient poets were pulped. Even books once banned by
the NS were destroyed! Sloppy handling caused the loss of the entire musical works of Richard
Strauss and several Gutenberg bibles were fried in this orgy of stupidity. TIME Article
Greed also played a part. The British Library was so disgusted and frightened by German books that
it alone possesses about 12,000 books the Allies seized from German libraries and institutions
between June 1944 and 1947. The US Library of Congress was so appalled by dangerous German
books that it obtained over 819,000 Allied confiscated German books by 1948 and 2 million other
pieces of German literature. Congress kept 28% of the stock, including Hitler's private library, and
sent 72% to the Association of Research Libraries. Only a small portion was ever returned to
Germany. The French take is unclear, but the Soviets stole a lion's share, especially rare illuminated
medieval manuscripts, but they were at least direct: since "Germany started the war" they deserved
to loot German cultural history. Millions of other German books that survived the bombings and
looting were stolen by occupying soldiers.
Beginning with "re-education" at the end of the War, Germany has continued the strict censorship
imposed by the Soviet and the Allied occupiers. Even today, using the "special history" excuse,
"nationalistic" books, songs and symbols are illegal even in private in Austria and Germany, and
Germany has been aggressive in trying to expand its own strict laws beyond its borders. Almost all
prosecutions of censorship violations have taken place in connection with what they term holocaust
"revisionism” or “denial”. Merely questioning an aspect, re-analyzing data, expressing a maverick
theory or trying to revise a statistic pertaining to this subject is lumped under "holocaust denial"
which is illegal not only in Germany and Austria, but in most of Europe. "To have failed to write
about a particular historical event in a balanced manner" (?) is a crime that can send an amateur
historian to jail and he will often serve a longer sentence than a child molester or serial rapist.
Thousands of people have been convicted of violating European "denial" laws and they are currently
languishing in European dungeons. Cases prosecuted under these laws go unchallenged even when
the convicted parties were pacifists and never proposed violence but were simply expressing their
opinion. In the cases of scientists, artists, singers or writers convicted of this offense, their homes and
businesses are raided and their work is destroyed by the state. Worse, the definition of "denial" is
being broadened and is defined today as "hard-core" and "soft-core" denial, the latter including
discussion of the Allied bombing campaign against Germany as well as the Expulsions of ethnic
German civilians after the war. Even liberal writers extremely critical of the Third Reich have been
tarnished as "soft-core deniers" when they came out with books discussing the heavy toll of Allied
bombing upon the German civilians in the war.
Canadians are now also paying the price for exercising their right to free expression. Their Human
Rights Act ”guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits
prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society” and this has
been interpreted by the Canadian courts and Human Rights Commission in a such manner which
makes its constitutional guarantee of free speech pretty much meaningless when compared to other
"collective rights and interests". It is utterly useless in protecting free speech when that speech might
offend someone as this turns an insult into "hate speech". The Act states: "Freedom of expression
ceases to be a fundamental characteristic of democratic values when it becomes a vehicle for the
promotion of hate." Exactly how hate is defined is left up to the courts, bureaucrats, special interest
groups, panels and politicians. Books and videos of an "offending" nature are destroyed and such
material found by Canadian customs guards at the US border is destroyed.
Like European “anti-racism” and "denial" laws, the persistent efforts to curb free speech in the US
have generally been proposed under the guise of preventing "racial hatred”. The US, with its
foundations rooted in individual liberty, does not have censorship laws as such, but it is being steadily
pressured in that direction by proposals of insidiously twined "hate crime" laws with censorship laws.
These zealous efforts, however innocuous on the surface, quickly escalate into full fledged assaults
upon individual liberties and cherished legal traditions of free speech. The prosecution needs only to
show that someone became or could become a "hater" due to reading an offending book, viewing an
offending website or listening to an offending speech or song, the authors of such books, sites or
songs therefore become guilty of "spreading hate" by default! By this fancy footwork, an illegal act is
redefined from what one DID do into what one MIGHT DO, or more aptly, what one MIGHT
THINK, and this is followed by a mess of judicial silliness and sloppy prosecutions based on
emotion, politics and hurt feelings rather than respectable jurisprudence.
In short, with language straight out of 16th century religious heresy or witch trials, today's efforts to
impose censorship are in reality just an extension of an age old struggle. Only the names, dates and
stated intentions have changed.
*Allied bombing of Germany caused extensive destruction of German libraries, including but not limited to the Library of
the Technical University of Aachen (50,000 volumes), the Berlin Staatsbibliothek (2 million volumes), the Berlin University
Library (20,000 volumes), the Bonn University Library (25% of its holdings), the Bremen Staatsbibliothek (150,000
volumes), the Hessische Landesbibliothek in Darmstadt (760,000 volumes), the Library of the Technical University in
Darmstadt (two thirds of its collection), the Stadt- und Landesbibliothek in Dortmund (250,000 of 320,000 volumes), the
Sächsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden (300,000 volumes), the Stadtbibliothek in Dresden (200,000 volumes), the
Essen Stadtbücherei (130,000 volumes), the Frankfurt Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek (550,000 volumes, 440,000
doctoral dissertations, 750,000 patents), the Giessen University Library (nine tenths of its collection), the Greifswald
University Library (17,000 volumes), the Hamburg Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek (600,000 volumes), the Hamburg
Commerz-Bibliothek (174,000 of 188,000 volumes), the Hannover Stadtbibliothek (125,000 volumes), the Badische
Landesbibliothek in Karlsruhe (360,000 volumes), the Library of the Technical University in Karlsruhe (63,000 volumes),
the Kassel Landesbibliothek (350,000 of 400,000 volumes), the Murhardsche Bibliothek in Kassel (100,000 volumes),
the Kiel University Library (250,000 volumes), the Leipzig Stadtbibliothek (175,000 of 181,000 volumes), the
Magdeburg Stadtbibliothek (140,000 of 180,000 volumes), the Marburg University Library (50,000 volumes), the
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich (500,000 volumes), the Munich University Library (350,000 volumes), the Munich
Stadtbibliothek (80,000 volumes), the Munich Benedictine Library (120,000 volumes), the Münster University Library
(360,000 volumes), the Nürnberg Stadtbibliothek (100,000 volumes), the Württembergische Landesbibliothek in
Stuttgart (580,000 volumes), the Library of the Technical University in Stuttgart (50,000 volumes), the Würzburg
University Library (200,000 volumes and 230,000 doctoral dissertations).
Source: UNESCO. General Information Programme and UNISIST, "Lost Memory – Libraries and Archives
Destroyed in the Twentieth Century" 1996.
|"The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race,
posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still
more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of
exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose what is almost as great a benefit,
the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error."
~John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859