On April 8, 1933, the Main Oﬃce for Press and Propaganda of the German Student Union ("GSU") proclaimed a nationwide "Action against the Un-German Spirit." It climaxed in a "cleansing" by ﬁre — a book burning.
Included were books by Jewish, paciﬁst, religious, liberal, anarchist, socialist, and communist authors — books deemed "subversive, or that "represented ideologies opposed to Nazism.""
William L. Shirer in "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" describes what followed:
"On the evening of May 10, 1933, some four and a half months after Hitler became Chancellor, there occurred in Berlin a scene which had not been witnessed in the Western world since the late Middle Ages."
"At about midnight, a torchlight parade of thousands of students ended at a square ... opposite the University of Berlin. Torches were put to a huge pile of books that had been gathered there, and as the ﬂames enveloped them, more books were thrown on the ﬁre until some 25,000 had been consumed. Similar scenes took place in several other cities. The book burnings had begun.
"Many of the books tossed into the ﬂames in Berlin that night by the joyous students under the approving eye of Dr. Goebbels had been written by authors of world reputation, They included Erich Maria Remarque, Albert Einstein, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Helen Keller, H.G. Wells, Emile Zola and Freud. In the words of the student proclamation, any book was consumed to the ﬂames 'which acts subversively on our nature or strikes at the root of German thought ...'"
By September 22, 1933, the Reich Chamber of Culture was established under Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda, with sub-chambers to "guide and control" the ﬁne arts, music, the theater, literature, the press, radio and ﬁlms.
Paintings and sculptures fared no better than books. In "Mein Kampf", Hitler vowed that on coming to power he would "cleanse" Germany of "decadent" art and replace it with a new "Germanic " art. Shortly thereafter, 6,500 "modern" paintings, including works of Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso, were removed from German museums.
As he opened his new "House for Germanic Art" in Munich, on July 18, 1937, Hitler, as Shirer noted, condemned "modern" art:
"Works of art that cannot be understood but need a swollen set of instructions to prove their right to exist and ﬁnd their way to neurotics who are receptive to such stupid or insolent nonsense will no longer openly reach the German Nation. Let no one have illusions! National Socialism has set out to purge the German Reich and our people of all those inﬂuences threatening its existence and character .... With the opening of this exhibition has come the end of artistic lunacy and with it the artistic pollution of our people."
Hitler established the Commission for the Exploitation of Degenerate Art headed by Hildebrand Gurlitt. Hitler's instructions were to sell for foreign currency 16,000 pieces of "degenerate" "modern" artwork that had been removed from museums or conﬁscated.
To that end, Gurlitt and his fellow commissioners set up a display near Berlin. The sale of art labeled by Hitler as "rubbish" and Goebbels as "garbage," was a failure. To spur sales, Gurlitt and his cronies publicly burned 1,004 paintings and sculptures and 3,825 watercolors, drawings and prints in front of the Berlin Fire Department. This "auto de fe" had its eﬀect. The Basel Museum and modern art enthusiasts scurried with cash in hand to the rescue.
All totalitarian governments and dictatorships operate on the premise that "error has no rights."
Today, conservatives are blocked from teaching and speaking at some colleges. Murals of Columbus are threatened at Notre Dame. George Washington's statue is destroyed. The Lincoln Monument is defaced. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", "Gone with The Wind" and "To Kill a Mocking Bird" may not be seen or read in some places. Doors at President Trump's rallies are blocked.
Conservative "speech" is to be silenced, shut down. A New York Times editor loses his job for publishing Sen. Tom Cotton's op-ed.
Where is the condemnation of all this by Democrats holding high oﬃce?
When I was of college age, American liberals denounced campus censorship. They denounced the ﬁlm censorship of the Catholic Legion of Decency. They approved Supreme Court rulings that protected unpopular forms of speech, including the provocative Nazi demonstration in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, the wearing of a shirt that said "F ... the Draft," the right of a jerk to call police oﬃcers "f...ing pigs," and a person's right to burn his own American ﬂag.
There once was the Democratic Party of Harry Truman, JFK, Adlai Stevenson, and Paul Simon, of which I was a proud member. Would they have remained silent?
Mayor Richard J. Daley certainly would not have.
Or should he have allowed Chicago to be looted and burned?
John Donald O'Shea is a retired circuit court judge and a regular columnist.
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