University News

Exhibition on Nazi book burnings opens at UCLA Feb. 24

U.S. Holocaust Museum show explores 1933 outrage and its legacy

Seventy-five years ago this May, just a few months after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany and six years before World War II began, German university students launched what they called an "Action Against the Un-German Spirit."
Targeting authors ranging from Helen Keller and Ernest Hemingway to Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, these students orchestrated book burnings across Germany that would foreshadow the realization of 19th-century German-Jewish writer Heinrich Heine's warning that "where one burns books, one soon burns people."
In commemoration of the anniversary, the UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library will present "Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings" from Feb. 24 to April 20.
Organized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., this traveling exhibition provides a vivid look at the first steps the Nazis took to suppress freedom of expression, the strong response that occurred in the U.S. immediately following the book burnings and during the war, and the continued presence of this incendiary event in public discourse throughout the ensuing years.
Covered widely in the media at the time, the book burnings provoked forceful reactions in the U.S. from writers, artists, scholars, journalists, librarians, labor unions, clergy, political figures and others. Newspaper editorials and political cartoonists denounced the bonfires, and American writers, including Keller, Lewis Mumford and Sinclair Lewis, wrote open letters condemning the students' actions.
The American Jewish Congress organized massive street demonstrations in more than a dozen U.S. cities to protest the Nazis' persecution of Jews, using the book burnings to broaden the coalition of anti-Nazi groups. As the war progressed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt evoked the burnings as a vivid example of the difference between a democratic America and Nazi Germany, and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt condemned them in her syndicated daily newspaper column.
Organizations including the Library of Congress, the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, the National Council of Women, the Writers War Board, the Council on Books in Wartime and the Office of War Information used the 10th anniversary of the book burnings, in 1943, to rally Americans around the war effort. The Council on Books in Wartime's slogan, "Books are weapons in the war of ideas," appeared in posters, proclamations, radio broadcasts and other outlets to reinforce the importance of books and the free marketplace of ideas.
The Nazi book burnings have continued to resonate in American politics, literature and popular culture ever since. Evocations have included a McCarthy-era speech in which President Dwight Eisenhower urged Dartmouth graduates not to "join the book burners," films such as "Pleasantville" and "Field of Dreams," episodes of "The Waltons" and "M*A*S*H," and public burnings of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books.
The traveling exhibition is complemented by an exhibit of items from related collections in the UCLA Library. These include books from the medical library of Dr. Caesar Hirsch, which was confiscated by the Gestapo in 1933 after Hirsch and his family fled Stuttgart, Germany (the collection was returned to the family in 2001 after a researcher discovered it in a library at Tubingen University); correspondence and a score from the archives of Ernst Toch and Eric Zeisl, two Austrian emigre composers who eventually settled in Southern California; selections from the papers of Ray Bradbury, the renowned author of "Fahrenheit 451"; and a draft of the volume of poetry "Einander"" from the papers of Franz Werfel, which was among the books the Nazis burned.
Admission to the library and the exhibit is free. The library is open Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 10 p.m. The library is closed on Friday, March 28, and hours vary during UCLA's intersession, March 21–30.
For more information about the exhibition and related events, call (310) 825-6925 or visit
The UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library provides research-level collections and services in education, government information, the humanities, public affairs, social sciences and urban planning, which are primarily designed to support UCLA graduate students and faculty.
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