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"Fighting the Fires of Hate" exhibit on display at Criss Library


Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 16:12

Book Burning

Photo by J.Christoffersen/ The Gateway

In order to create awareness about the ways Nazis suppressed freedom of expression, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has created a traveling exhibit entitled “Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings.” The exhibit will be located in the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Criss Library from Oct. 9 until Dec. 4. Although many people may not know much about the book burnings, they were an important symbol during World War II.

Nazi Germany during World War II created some of the most tragic events in world history. One way that Hitler and the Nazi party destroyed freedom of thought and gained power was by burning literature in flames fueled by hate. On May 10, 1933, Nazi Germany college students burned thousands of books including works by Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway and Helen Keller, in order to “cleanse” all “un-German spirit” from German society.

 “The exhibit is extremely thought-provoking and, to its credit, prompts viewers to consider how the destruction or censorship of certain cultural productions such as movies, records, Harry Potter books is a constant threat that needs to be guarded against by all those who wish to preserve societies where ideas are freely considered,” said Dr. Charles Johanningsmeier, professor and Jefferis Chair of English.

Dr. Johanningsmeier also advocates the importance of learning about the book burnings.

“It reminds us of how those in power can be threatened by ideas, in this case ideas contained in printed books. History is full of examples of dominant groups trying to limit access to ideas that threaten their dominance, and the Nazi book burnings and subsequent control of print production and distribution were especially egregious examples of this.”

Although the book burnings aren’t the first thoughts that World War II brings about, they clearly had a lot of importance in Nazi control.

“They were a wake-up call to the world of how the Nazis were quite willing to use force and strong-arm tactics to carry out their agenda,” Dr. Johanningsmeier said. “The book burnings were widely reported (and criticized) in the U.S. and gave Americans a clear indication that the Nazis were going to radically control free expression. Ironically, I believe the book burnings helped galvanize resistance to the Nazis.”

In addition to the exhibit, Dr. Johanningsmeier will be giving a presentation on Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Criss Library. The presentation is titled “Willa Cather, Germany and the Nazi Regime: A Complicated Relationship” and will cover the Nebraska author’s thoughts on German culture and how the power of Nazi Germany impacted her views of the country.

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