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In the Galleries: Propaganda poster protesting Nazi book burnings

This 1942 poster reminded Americans of the widespread 1933 Nazi book burnings and presented books as playing a fundamental role in the fight against tyranny.
This 1942 poster reminded Americans of the widespread 1933 Nazi book burnings and presented books as playing a fundamental role in the fight against tyranny.

On May 10, 1933, a series of coordinated book burnings took place across Germany. In the academic sphere, the German Students Association’s staged burnings were an attempt to eliminate “un-German” works from university libraries. Addressing the students gathered in Berlin, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels encouraged them to “clean up the debris of the past.” Ultimately more than 25,000 books were burned, including works by Heinrich Heine, Thomas Mann, and Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, and Helen Keller.

The 1933 Nazi-sponsored book burnings in Germany prompted a swift and very public response in the United States. On the day of the burnings, more than 100,000 marchers took to the streets of New York City in protest. American newspapers covered the story extensively, and citizens soon watched the burnings firsthand via newsreel footage in theaters throughout the United States.

In the aftermath, the Brooklyn Jewish Center created a Library of Nazi Banned Books, and the New York Public Library hosted an exhibition of banned books. The book burnings took on greater significance in 1942 as the United States, at war with Germany, pointed to the book burnings as evidence of the Nazi government’s tyranny.

The poster can be seen in the current exhibition Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored, on display through January 22.