Carter Man: Book Burning and Revisionism as Denial

The article I read comes from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website and discusses book burning in Nazi Germany. The author begins by discussing how book burning in Germany had its start in the nineteenth century, when nationalist students of a divided Germany pushed for German unification by burning books deemed “un-German.” The author goes on to discuss how book burning occurred in Nazi Germany for similar reasons. Students in Nazi Germany burned books for nationalist and political reasons. Book burning was done to bring Germany in line with Nazi ideology by burning books that presented ideas and theories incompatible with Nazi beliefs. The author talks about the types of books that were burned. These consisted of socialist works, works by American authors, works by Jewish authors, and works otherwise deemed to be un-German.

The author takes what I describe as a “matter of fact” approach. The article seems to be more about what happened than analysis. The author does discuss how book burning was done in accordance with nationalism, Nazi politics, and general intolerance of anything that doesn’t fit in the Nazi narrative. The author doesn’t really explicitly explain how book burning led to the holocaust either. Since that seems to be the website’s purpose, the article is probably one of many articles documenting the rise of the Nazis and the holocaust in Germany. In this article in particular, the author likely cites book burning as an example of how the German political culture became increasingly nationalist and intolerant to the point that those who don’t fit within the Nazi framework for society can then be dehumanized.

Again, the article doesn’t provide analysis of book burning in Nazi Germany so much as it provides a summary of such book burnings. Still, the reader can make some inferences for himself based on the article, such as the one previously described in which book burning symbolized an increasingly rigid German political culture in which the destruction of those who didn’t fit in was increasingly permissible. Likewise, the article doesn’t discuss historical negationism at all, yet the reader can make inferences. The closer to the extremes of the political spectrum, the more likely one is to insist on one correct way to view the world instead tolerating alternative views. By burning books that contradict Nazi ideology and promoting books that promote it, the Nazis destroy evidence that doesn’t fit into their narratives. It is difficult for historians to create an accurate history when governments destroy substantial amounts of evidence for political reasons. In a way, it could also be considered historical denialism. I made a meme to demonstrate how book burning is historical denialism, but the site will not let me upload it with the text. The meme read “Can’t have your desired version of history repudiated… if you destroy any and all evidence that contradicts your version of history.” My point though, is that book burning, as is the case in Nazi Germany is an irresponsible attempt at history. Instead of using all available evidence to give the best possible explanation(s) of an historical event, the Nazi’s had a predetermined view of history they wanted to promote. Instead of simply ignoring such evidence, as others might, the Nazis proceeded to destroy any and all evidence that contradicts their version of history. This creates problems for future historians. Unless copies were spared, how can one obtain an objective history when past governments literally destroyed evidence that completes a puzzle of the past? Relating historical negationism back to objectivity in history, it’s easy to worry about the objectivity of the contemporary historian in interpreting history. As Nazi book burning clearly demonstrates, modern historians must also take into account the blatant subjectivity of past actors, such as the Nazis and their destruction of evidence that doesn’t fit their views.

Word Count: 638

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Book Burning.” ushmm.org. Accessed
October 24, 2017. https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/
article.php?ModuleId=10005852.

  1 comment for “Carter Man: Book Burning and Revisionism as Denial

  1. hryan
    November 2, 2017 at 1:00 am

    Usually book burnings are seen as a way of erasing part of the past to influence the present but as you so rightly pointed out, they really reveal a “predetermined view of history” which is an attempt to control the future. This adds another dimension to our old discussion on whether objectivity is possible by considering the subjective actions of past actors.
    -HR

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