At midnight May 10th, 1933, the National Socialist German Students Union ignited a bonfire. In Berlin, 5,000 torch-bearing teens carried 20,000 books gathered from the city’s libraries, bookstores and private homes to a pyre in Opera Square. The crowd cheered as the works of Erich Maria Remarque, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Upton Sinclair and dozens of other American, German, British, French and Russian authors were tossed into the flames.
“German education has been purged of smut and dishonesty,” student leader Herbert Gutjahr declared jubilantly. German youth would no longer suffer the pain of being exposed to ideas they and their leaders disagreed with. (Feel free to enjoy a moment of schadenfreude at news that Herbert was killed on the Eastern Front in 1944. A Christian would pray that before the end he recognized the error of his ways.)
Time magazine called it a “bibliocaust” in eerie presentiment of the holocaust to follow. The German word was Gleichschaltung, the inculcation of the Nazi ethos into every aspect of German life—language, lineage, behavior, and, of course, reading material.