Burning and Banning Books

The first large burning came on 6 May 1933. The German Student Union made an organized attack on Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute of Sex Research. Its library and archives of around 20,000 books and journals were publicly hauled out and burned in the street. Its collection included unique works on intersexuality, homosexuality, and transgender topics.

Joseph Goebbels
Reich Minister of Propaganda
By Bundesarchiv, Bild 119-2406-01 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5337705

On May 10, 1933, the students burned upwards of 25,000 volumes of “un-German” books in the square at the State Opera, Berlin. This action began an era of inflexible state censorship. In many other university towns, nationalist students marched in torch-lit parades against the “un-German” spirit. The scripted rituals of this night called for high Nazi officials, professors, rectors, and student leaders to address the participants and spectators. At the meeting places, students threw the pillaged, banned books into the bonfires with a great joyous ceremony that included live music, singing, “fire oaths,” and incantations. In Berlin, around 40,000 people heard Joseph Goebbels deliver a fiery address: “No to decadence and moral corruption!” Goebbels told the crowd. “Yes [sic] to decency and morality in family and state! I consign to the flames the writings of Heinrich Mann, Ernst Glaeser, Erich Kästner.”

All of the following types of literature, as described by the Nazis, were to be banned:

  • The works of traitors, emigrants, and authors from foreign countries who believe they can attack and denigrate the new Germany
  • The literature of Marxism, Communism, and Bolshevism.
  • Pacifist literature.
  • Literature with liberal, democratic tendencies and attitudes
  • All historical writings whose purpose is to denigrate the origin, the spirit, and the culture of the German People, or to dissolve the racial and structural order of the Volk, or that denies the force and importance of leading historical figures in favor of egalitarianism and the masses, and which seeks to drag them through the mud.
  • Books that advocate “art” which is decadent, bloodless, or purely constructivist
  • Writings on sexuality and sexual education which serve the egocentric pleasure of the individual and destroy the principles of race and Volk
  • Literature by Jewish authors, regardless of the field.
  • Popular entertainment literature that depicts life and life’s goals in a superficial, unrealistic, and sickly-sweet manner, based on a bourgeois or upper-class view of life.
  • Naiveimitation of patriotic literature.
  • Pornography and explicit literature
  • All books that degrade German purity.

Many German students were complicit in the Nazi book burning campaign. They were known as Deutsche Studentenschaft, and when they ran out of books in their libraries they turned to independent bookstores. Libraries were also asked to stock their shelves with material that stood up to Hitler’s standards and destroy anything that did not.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott
By World Travel & Tourism Council – Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54703342

Fast forward to Texas in 2021. In November, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (Republican) told education officials that the Texas Association of School Boards had “attempted to wash its hands clean of the issue by abdicating all responsibility in the matter” to monitor and remove unacceptable books from classrooms and school and public libraries.

Abbott said: “Given this negligence, the State of Texas now calls on you to do what the Texas Association of School Boards refuses to do,” that the standards the entities develop “must ensure transparency about the materials being taught in the classroom and offered in school libraries.”

The heads of the Texas Education Commission (TEA) and State Board of Education (SBOE) said they would work alongside the other to develop those statewide standards as requested by the governor.

The Texas Education Commission “takes seriously” Abbott’s “call for action on this matter of great importance to families of Texas public school students.” The SBOE said Texas public school families “should have the reassurance that their children are not at risk of being confronted with pornographic and obscene material when they are in school.”

Texas State Representative Matt Krause (Fort Worth Republican) launched an inquiry on the question of inappropriate content in public schools and libraries in certain school districts over the types of books students can access. Krause included a roughly 850-book list that included novels about racism and sexuality and asked the districts to identify which of those books were available on school campuses.

Krause asked districts whether they had those books and how much money was spent on them but declined to offer specifics and said he does not want to “compromise” a pending or potential investigation as chair of the House General Investigating Committee.

The 850- booklist is available from the Texas Tribune.

The following topic list includes some sample titles that discuss:

Abortion – Roe vs. Wade, Coping with Birth Control, A Question of Choice, and Abortion: opposing viewpoints

Sexuality – Everything you need to know about growing up female  Everything you need to know about growing up male,The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel, LGBT families, and Gender equality

Teen Sex – Teens & sex, Safe sex 101: an overview for teens, S.E.X.: the all-you-need-to-know progressive sexuality guide to get you through high school and college, Do abstinence programs work? Sexually transmitted diseases, and Sexually transmitted infections

Sexual Orientation – The LGBT community, Sexual orientation, Coming out: telling family and friends, A new generation of homosexuality: modern trends in gay and lesbian communities, Identity & gender, and Rainbow revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ people who made history

Racism – What’s racism? The Black power movement and civil unrest, So you want to talk about race, This book is anti-racist : 20 lessons on how to wake up, take action, and do the work, Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, #BlackLivesMatter : protesting racism, and Race and policing in modern America.

These books allow important discussions about teens that teens are dealing with: Sexuality (Internal conflicts about gender identification and hate crimes against LGBTs), Sexuality and Teen Sex (Just when their hormones are in overdrive these conversations are critical in dealing with family, religion, biology, male and female characteristics changes, and teen pregnancy),  Racism (How can we expect to reconcile treatment of minorities if this topic is not discussed in the classroom? How can society rid itself of hate when teens are prohibited from understanding their prejudices and unequal treatment?), and Abortion – This is a major issue facing our society and teens need to understand its origin, femininity and masculinity, and physical and mental crises young people often face alone).

Currently, some districts in Texas ban: The Tell-tale Heart (Edgar Allan Poe), I Hate My Bow (Hans Wilhelm), To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), Pugdog (Andrea U’Ren), Drama (Raina Telgemeier), Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), Brave New World (Aldous Huxley), The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold) Underpants (Dav Pilkey), and Mirriam-Webster’s Visual Dictionary.

A Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler conducted a poll about the Texas government’s role in “identifying which books should be removed.” The results indicated that 35% of respondents have “no confidence” and 31% said “that they had “not too much” confidence. Less than 10% of the respondents said they “trusted state leaders’ judgment on books “a great deal.”

Perhaps by including books and discussing the issues we can prevent suicide, unprepared and unmarried teenage parents, beating an LBGT teen, and harassing a bright classmate who happens to be Asian or Jewish, and stopping a bombing of a church, mosque, or synagogue.

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About Allen Mesch

Allen is an author, educator, and historian. He has written six books: The Analyst; Teacher of Civil War Generals; Your Affectionate Father, Charles F. Smith; Charles A. Marvin - "One Year. Six Months, and Eleven Days", Preparing for Disunion, and Ebenezer Allen - Statesman, Entrepreneur, and Spy. He taught classes on the American Civil War at Collin College. He has visited more than 130 Civil War sites and given presentations at Civil War Roundtables.
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