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Monday, February 27, 2017

Book Burnings

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s Freedom to Read week, so I thought it appropriate to write about book burnings.  The novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is one of the dystopian novels which have become popular since the beginning of the Trump presidency.  The book presents a future American society in which dissenting ideas are suppressed so books are outlawed and any that are found are burned. 

Apparently, Bradbury was partially inspired by Nazi book burnings, a campaign conducted by the German Student Union to ceremonially burn books in Nazi Germany and Austria in the 1930s. The books targeted for burning were those viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism. These included books written by Jewish, pacifist, religious, anarchist, socialist, and communist authors, among others.  The book burning ceremony in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is certainly a memorable scene.   

Now a new book with a similar name, The Book Thieves by Anders Rydell, reveals that the Nazi regime didn’t just burn books; it also plundered the contents of private libraries across Europe.  “The Reich considered the stolen books to be strategic assets that gave them a deeper look into the minds of their enemies, as well as a source of validation for their ongoing racial pogroms. The Nazis also saw seizing sacred texts as one more step toward erasing Jewish culture in total.”  After the war, many of the stolen books found their way into private collections and university libraries as 'donated' texts" (

There has been some success in returning art stolen by the Nazis to the families of their rightful owners since art often has a provenance.  Books do not have such a provenance so returning them has proven to be extremely difficult.