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Library presents exhibition from U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, program from ASU professor

June 27, 2008 -- On Thursday, July 3, the Dean B. Ellis Library at Arkansas State University will open a traveling exhibition from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings.”  This exhibition provides a vivid look at the first steps the Nazis took to suppress freedom of expression, and the strong response that occurred in the United States both immediately and in the years thereafter. The exhibition focuses on how the book burnings became a potent symbol during World War II in America’s battle against Nazism, and concludes by examining their continued impact on our public discourse.

Seventy-five years ago, just a few months after Adolf Hitler came to power in Nazi Germany and a full six years before World War II, German university students launched an “Action Against the Un-German Spirit” targeting authors ranging from Helen Keller and Ernest Hemingway to Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. Their orchestrated book burnings across Germany would come to underscore German-Jewish writer Heinrich Heine’s 19th century warning, “Where one burns books, one soon burns people.”

In conjunction with this traveling exhibition, ASU professor Dr. Lawrence Sa
linger, assistant department chair and associate professor in ASU’s Department of Criminology, Sociology, and Geography, will offer a special presentaDr. Lawrence Salingertion, “Survivors of the Shoah: Ursel Salinger,” on Tuesday, July 8, at 5:30 p.m., Library, room 118. Salinger will present a 1998 taped interview from the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education. The interview subject, Ursel Salinger, grew up Jewish in Nazi Berlin. Dr. Salinger is her son.

April Sheppard, the library’s chair of the Library Programs and Exhibits committee, notes, “The Shoah Foundation was established b
y film director Stephen Spielberg in 1994, a year after he finished “Schindler’s List.” He wanted to record the testimonies of all the remaining Holocaust survivors, and the foundation interviewed nearly 52,000 survivors. ‘Shoah’ is the Hebrew word for chaos, destruction, or catastrophe, and is increasingly used as the term to denote the Holocaust. We thought Dr. Salinger’s presentation, especially following the Fourth of July holiday, when Americans celebrate their freedoms, tied in to this exhibition in a very meaningful way.

Covered widely in the media, the Nazi book burnings provoked immediate, strong reactions in the United States among writers, artists, scholars, journalists, librarians, labor unions, clergy, political figures, and others. Newspaper editorials and political cartoonists denounced the bonfires. Newsweek magazine called it a “holocaust of books”; TIME magazine, a “bibliocaust.” American writers including Helen Keller, Lewis Mumford, and Sinclair Lewis – some of whose books had been consigned to the flames – wrote open letters condemning the book burnings. The American Jewish Congress organized massive street demonstrations in more than a dozen U.S. cities to protest Nazi persecution of Jews, using May 10 and the book burnings to broaden the coalition of anti-Nazi groups.

“Americans were deeply offended by the book burnings, which were a gross assault against their core values,” said United States Holocaust Memorial Museum director Sara Bloomfield. “Their response was intense, in fact so strong that throughout the war, the government used the book burnings to help define the nature of the enemy to the American public. Unfortunately, the systematic murder of Europe’s Jews was not seen as a compelling case for fighting Nazism.”

As World War II progressed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt would evoke the book burnings as a vivid example of the difference between a democratic America and Nazi Germany. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt condemned the book burnings in her daily newspaper column. The exhibition also focuses on how organizations ranging from the Library of Congress, the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, and the National Council of Women to the Writer’s 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 exhibition also documents how the importance of books and the free marketplace of ideas were given currency through the slogan, “Books Are Weapons in the War of Ideas,” which appeared in posters, proclamations, radio broadcasts, and scores of other outlets.

The exhibition concludes with the postwar years, exploring how the Nazi book burnings have continued to resonate in American politics, literature, and popular culture. It features post-war evocations of book burnings, including a McCarthy-era speech in which President Eisenhower urged Dartmouth graduates, “Don’t join the book burners”; films such as “Pleasantville” and “Field of Dreams”; episodes of television shows like “The Waltons” and “M*A*S*H”; the death threats against Salman Rushdie; and the public burning of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

April Sheppard observes, “As the Fourth of July celebrations come to an end, we have the time, as Americans, to reflect on what freedom means to us. For some, freedom is in what we can say or what we can believe in.  For others, freedom is also represented in what we can read. Seventy-five years ago, the Nazi book burnings were held.  Americans were shocked, outraged, and heartbroken.  In a country built on an idea, as America was, the book burnings were an unforgivable offense. As Helen Keller wrote in an open letter to the Germans, ‘History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas.’” 

“Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings,” will run through Sunday, July 27. For more information on the exhibition, contact April Sheppard at (870) 972-2766 or For library hours, click here. The Dean B. Ellis Library's main switchboard number is (870) 972-3077.

To view the online version of the exhibition, visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and go to the exhibition page, The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is online at




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