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Banned and Burned at the Mandel Public Library

Stephen Brown


   Few moments are as emblazoned on the pages of history as that of the Nazi book burnings in 1933. This was, for many, the first introduction to a group driven by hatred and blinding xenophobia; for Americans in particular, this act of “cleansing” stuck as direct opposition to the very freedoms this country was founded upon.

   On May 10, 1933, as university students across Germany burned thousands of books, a line was being drawn, separating Nazi Germany from the world and putting the country on the eventual path toward the conflagration of World War II. To explore those fateful events and how it became a poignant symbol in the American fight against the fascist regime, the Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach has partnered with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for the exhibition “Banned and Burned: Literary Censorship and the Loss of Freedom.” The display is part of the USHMM’s traveling exhibit, “Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burning,” on display through January 6.

Banned and Burned - Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach - United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

   Meticulously planned by the German Student’s Association’s Main Office for Press and Propaganda, the Nazi Book Burnings on May 10, 1933—proclaimed nationwide as an “action against the un-German spirit”—was somewhat of a culmination of the Nazi revolution of January 30, 1933. German university students across the nation (34 cities in all) were encouraged, in mass demonstration, to “cleanse” the country of books—both academic and literary—deemed subversive to the Nationalist Socialist regime, thus beginning an era of censorship and state-controlled culture. Books from authors like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Sigmund Freud, Jack London and others deemed un-German were targeted for the perceived subversive nature they may instill in the increasingly authoritarian and domineering Nazi Party. These demonstrations were universally condemned outside of Germany and later used in the United States as a symbol of tyranny and rallying point for national unity in the fight against fascism.

   “Banned and Burned” and “Fighting the Fires of Hate” explore this tumultuous time and the continued effect these public acts of censorship and submission have had on the modern world, from Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 to popular culture of today. As the calendar turns to 2013, it marks the eightieth anniversary of the Nazi book burnings—a solemn reminder of our collective past and that tyranny, hate and persecution still linger, but collectively, it can be overcome.

   “Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings” is on display through January 6 at the Mandel Public Library in West Palm Beach. A number of events and programs are schedule in congruence to “Banned and Burned,” each giving insight into the lead up of the book burning, international reaction and the backlash of censorship. The November lineup is as follows:

  • November 7, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., the opening reception “Freedom: Spectrum of Banned and Burned” features an overview of the exhibition; a discussion with Jim Bachner, a Holocaust survivor who was in Berlin during the book burnings; and a performance by the Symphonic Band of the Palm Beaches of music banned in Nazi Germany. RSVP is required; call 561-868-7715.
  • On November 17, form 2-3 p.m., students from Dreyfoos School of the Arts will perform Burning, a physical expression of the “actions and motivations behind the banning and burning of books and censorship.”
  • November 19, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., attorney Barry Slotnick will lead the discussion “Does the First Amendment Really Protect Freedom from Censorship and Freedom of the Press?”—an apropos topic with direct connection to the 1933 events and the current state of our country’s personal freedoms. RSVP required; call 561-868-7715.
  • November 28, from noon 1:30 p.m., participants in the open discussion “Banned … Now and Then” will discuss the messages that led to the banning of the books The Great Gatsby, A Farewell to Arms, The Hunger Games and the Harry Potter series.
  • Also on November 28, from 6-8 p.m., the Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach presents the film Paper Clips, a documentary about how a small town studied the Holocaust.


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February 2015