United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Traveling Exhibition “Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings” Opens

USHMM ExhibitA traveling exhibition from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings is now open for the West Point community and their guests on the second floor of the Jefferson Hall Library and Learning Center. This exhibition is sponsored by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at West Point, in partnership with the U.S. Military Academy Library and will be at West Point until June 11, 2014.

Due to security and access restrictions in place for Jefferson Hall and the central area of West Point, the exhibition is not open to the general public.

On May 10, 1933, just a few months after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany and a full six years before World War II, university students across Nazi Germany burned thousands of books in an ominous “cleansing” of the “un-German spirit” from German culture. Writings by scores of German and foreign authors, including Helen Keller, Ernest Hemingway, and Sigmund Freud, were consumed in spectacularly staged bonfires. Americans quickly condemned the events as hostile to the spirit of democracy and the freedom of expression. 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.”

The 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.

“Americans were deeply offended by the book burnings, which were a gross assault against their core values,” said U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Director Sara J. 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.”

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 postwar 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 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.