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Burning Books - the Pretzien "Bücherverbrennung"

category international | history and heritage | opinion/analysis author Tuesday February 27, 2007 05:50author by hogworts - iosaf Report this post to the editors

Last summer solstice (June 24, 2006) in Pretzien a tiny village of Saxony-Anhalt (former DDR - east Germany) not too far from Berlin occurred an incident of burning books or "Bücherverbrennung" as it is said in the German language. 8 months later 7 individuals went to trial on Monday accused of "inciting racial hatred" and "disparaging the dead". The men ranging in age from 24 to 29 also burned a US flag. Local villagers called the police who did not recognise the burning of a diary by Anne Frank as being that worrying. The men face up to 5 years imprisonment and the training of police officers in the state has been improved to help them deal with the large scale emergence of neo-Nazi groups & far-right crime. They'll be better skilled in understanding the neo-Nazis who get a job working next to them or the historical stuff behind a Jewish kindergarten being burned last weekend in Berlin. They may even read Anne Frank.
in normal times we would never have read a child's diary.
in normal times we would never have read a child's diary.

we may read in,2144,2365002,00.html the case of the burning of Anne Frank's diary in Pretzien, local police apparently first deemed the crime as a mere "disturbance to peace" because they weren't familiar with the book and thus unable to grasp the intensity and political dimension of the act. They only began investigations and raids in earnest ten days after the crime."Unfortunately many police officers in Germany need to massively refresh their knowledge of the Nazi-era and the role played at the time by their profession," Detlef von Schwerin, head of a documentation and research group on police history at a police college in the eastern state of Brandenburg told German news agency dpa. The state of Saxony-Anhalt where the diary of Anne Frank was burned however seems to have drawn some lessons from the crime.According to Klaus-Peter Knobloch, spokesman of the state's interior ministry, the state has already modified police training programs in response to the crime."In seminars and other events, officers have since been increasingly learning about the Nazi-era, the historical context and in particular the current manifestations of the right-wing scene."

For as we should know the far-right scene in Germany and most particularly in former Eastern Germany is growing and spreading - winning seats and making decisions.

One of the men identified as Konrad (25) told the court his motives had been misunderstood & he had intended to "free himself from an evil chapter of German history"... but had no intention... "of denying the Nazis' crimes". We can presume he knew about the Nazi's crimes because he is a member of a far -right group and they tend to collect the memorabilia buy the t-shirts and do the dances.
State prosecutor Arnold Murra said in court that the 7 intended to "glorify" the Nazis with the book-burning - "You ridiculed Anne Frank and with her all the victims of the concentration camps.". The state prosecution office in a statement before the trial opened had justified the case - the men had "by using clear-cut neo-Nazi and Nazi terminology," "not just mocked Anne Frank, who died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945 at the age of 15, but also all the other millions of Nazi victims."
Just in case you've never thought about it - good citizens allowed millions of other citizens to lose their rights - to democratic participation, assembly, expression, education, movement. Thereafter the few privileges left which were adjusted- include marriage, commercial relationships and holding of educational qualifications or jobs. They were made to wear tags so that everyone would know why they didn't merit rights and it was understandably to attack or abuse them on sight. Then it started getting nasty.
They had their property confiscated and were put to forced labour and only fed starvation rations. Yet they had mostly not given up all hope - when they were herded onto trains and sent to camps. There they were seperated from their families - and given a number which related to their file which was collated and callibrated by IBM so that their record and those of the many millions of other Europeans who had joined them in Hell could be managed efficiently. Then their labour got harder and their rations more meagre. They were seperated according to usefulness - be it as medical research material, slave or sex object. & then if they hadn't died by then - they were murdered in a great many creative ways with household brand names we trust and know providing the machinery. Many were gassed and a few got out.

These people came from all over Europe and thus were a diverse group - as one would expect for the largest prison population ever assembled which of course had to be kept at an efficient level. On their bunks had before them slept other jews, other communists, other socialists, other gays, other slavs, other gypsies, other masons, other jehovah witnesses, other troublesome hard to specify freaks who still havent got a memorial to be pissed on. Of course there was the occassional bad German of pure blood who hadn't made the height requirements but they were mostly sent to the Russian front.

You may wonder why Germans of all people would want to get the ideology that did all that up and running again. You may have thought at some stage "how could they do that?" Well you'd be missing something - something very important about the 20th century in fact and how its residual problems are still with us be it in Berlin or Warsaw, Madrid or Belfast. Everything which had been done in the Shoah or Holocaust, every turn of the screw on the torturer's rack had legal and cultural precedent. Only the scale of organisation, the reach of catchment and corporate business world's contributions as innovators or labour market customers not to mention the propaganda gloss - marked 1933-1945 as different. Many times before the ghetto had been walled, the badges had been put, the shops been shut, the jobs restricted, the property confiscated, the marriages dissolved and the books had been burnt.
long before Goebbels had gone on movietone news worldwide to show the fruit of his decision in March 1933 as Nazi propaganda minister to direct an "action against the non-German spirit" which meant collation of writings by Jewish, Socialist, Marxist writers and many other groups which weren't planned on playing a part in the glorious thousand year reich which had just begun. You would now be in year 74.
At its most visible and novel level this program saw books burnt first in village squares in March of that year and then the students and universities (which often stock more books than your local grain warehouse) got in on the act. As Spring turned to May and the Summer short holidays with their accompanying bonfires and parties books burned by the thousands. It is impossible to know how many were burnt. Goebbels perhaps worried that were would be no Bertold Brecht, Max Brod, Sigmund Freud, Andre Gide, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Jung or Franz Kafka left to burn "on camera" after all this was for posterity.., began to think of maximum publicity and the need to maintain party control of the ordinary German.
It was not enough that they burn books- it had to be the right wrong ones & for the right reasons - in service of "national socialism" & of course its leader whose one book they would be expected to put on the shelves because they'd still want to read something.
12 points of evaluation were issued in April of 1933 so the various nazi grunts at the grass roots level could make sure all the proper books were ready. It might have been one of the few times such individuals wrestled with a library filing system. Though sadly more than one nazi grunt was a librarian and more than enough were considered "well educated men".

The night of the 10th of May - in the Berlin opera square and 21 other cities - the good citizens of the day did their bit for cleansing the German people of not only Jewish and Communist and Socialist "usual suspects" but pretty much all of their own democratic archive. The kids out late for the treat and the ecstatic mob looked on as the work and intellectual property gifted to the literate burnt into the wee hours.

The names which appear on the German wikipedia list of authors burned who are still considered important to our civilisation and thus have supporting articles on their work are
the German language writers :-

Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Bertolt Brecht, Max Brod, Otto Dix, Alfred Döblin, Albert Einstein, Lion Feuchtwanger, Marieluise Fleißer, Leonhard Frank, Sigmund Freud, Iwan Goll, George Grosz, Jaroslav Hašek, Heinrich Heine, Ödön von Horvath, Heinrich Eduard Jacob, Franz Kafka, Georg Kaiser, Erich Kästner, Alfred Kerr, Egon Erwin Kisch, Siegfried Kracauer, Karl Kraus, Theodor Lessing, Alexander Lernet-Holenia, Karl Liebknecht, Georg Lukács, Rosa Luxemburg, Heinrich Mann, Klaus Mann, Ludwig Marcuse, Karl Marx, Robert Musil, Carl von Ossietzky, Erwin Piscator, Alfred Polgar, Erich Maria Remarque, Joachim Ringelnatz, Joseph Roth, Nelly Sachs, Felix Salten, Anna Seghers, Arthur Schnitzler, Carl Sternheim, Bertha von Suttner, Ernst Toller, Kurt Tucholsky, Jakob Wassermann, Franz Werfel, Arnold Zweig, Stefan Zweig.
The French :- André Gide, Romain Rolland, Henri Barbusse,
The Americans :- Ernest Hemingway, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, John Dos Passos
The Russians and Soviets :- Maxim Gorki, Isaak Babel, Vladimir Iljic Lenin, Leo Trotsky, Vladimir Majakowski, Ilja Ehrenburg.

Yet it wasn't just Einstein and Brecht. The list was over 10,000 titles - not all of which were literature or poetry or scientific tracts by the ethnically unaceptable. Much of the kindling was documents and tracts relating to Germany's democratic history - the Weimar republic which had lasted such a short time and could with its memories of "free opinion" go up in smoke.
The following year over 3,000 titles were on another list which covered over 170 authors.
The very lucky and fortuanate got out of Germany at this stage. And going from one country to another was not so easy then. So the lucky really did out. They had six years before Germany would start to come over its borders and look for them.

Yet all of this had precedent. Martin Luther is credited with being the father of a unified German language because in his translations of the Latin Bibles he had chosen one form which could be understood across the wide range of dialects. His bible helped the Germans on their way to national conscienceness as well as a different take on God and the role of Italians. His mass conversion of a huge swathe central Europeans to his brand of protestantism would not have been as quick with the emergent technology of the printing press. But if the literate could find a decent protestant printing of the 90 thesis - they could also find a decent printing of a rebuttal.

Luther thus burnt catholic books on the 10th Dezember 1520. Back then the superpower was Spain and its emperor Charles V ordered a revenge burning of all of Luthers books in his lands and realsm (which still included the netherlands and what would now be a bit of Italy and the nation without a state Sardinia) on the 10th of March 1521.

By this stage Europeans had brought our typical diseases, horses and God to the Americas. The Americans were delighted to paid handsomely for more of our God with most of their gold and assisted in destroying anything objectionable to decent men which might be in the culture. in 1560 the catholic archbishop of new spain (now mexicio) , Diego de Landa, ordered burnt all Mayan literature including the much missed "pocket mayan calander - a guide all your questions answered". He of course being a clever franciscan chap had copied down all the stuff which wasn't "superstition or lies of the devil" so future generations like you could read about the Mayans : how he had bothered to learn their language, not only give them one God but refuse to take any of their gods in return - and finally because he no other choice introduce them to the inquisition process. Unfortuanately he lost the book and with it the only "mayan-latin" dictionary. Back in those days readers (who I admire greatly considering them to be the primary movers of history) were beyond "admirable". Without needing encouragement they lovingly copied books they had read - together with copious notes. Diego De Landa's manuscript had been written "around 1566 on his return to Spain; however, the original copies have long since been lost. The account is known to us only as an abridgement, which in turn had undergone several iterations by various copyists. The extant version was produced around 1660, and was discovered by the nineteenth century French cleric Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg in 1862. Brasseur de Bourbourg published the manuscript two years later in a bilingual French-Spanish edition, entitled Relation des choses de Yucatán de Diego de Landa."

You can learn several things from this.
1) if you are lucky enough to have a first contact with another civilisation or culture don't give them god or introduce them to the blame game. Just ask them for any good drugs, make an excuse and leave. Don't even linger on for the exceptionally pretty and free of venereal disease hospitality team. You'd only make an emotional attachment, settle down and never get your entry on wikipedia

2) The Eastern Germans are into their "Nazi return" now. This type of "far-right" activity and the influences it has are poorly reflected in this crime -story. The people who are attracted to the policies of the small parties on the right have now passed many generations under some form of non-democratic tyranny.Their route to social organisation (and it is only when they elect a councillor that people go boo!) started many years ago - at institutional level in either the states or the federal government there was an impotency to deal with the problem beyond absorption of the attitudes and a little lurch further right each year whilst sticking slavishly to the US neo-liberal trade model. This is the residual problem I will now start dealing on in many linked articles. The problem of how the 20th century in Europe though dark and horrific for the vast majority still offered assurances beneath the tyrannies, the essence of which are still extant and increasingly desirable to certain population groups. For the moment these groups seem to be concentrating in the former soviet pact states of the EU.But their presence continues as had previously been considered typical in the peripheral suburbs of large industrial cities in France, England, Spain and Italy. Holocaust legacies and Holocaust denials are issues which need to be addressed as they are both manipulated for geo-political reasons in the posturing between Iran and Israel.
But dealing with those problems or thinking all "far-right or neo-Nazis" will burn Anne Frank - will not stop the emergence or "re-emergence" of people who wish see totalitarian societies. It is difficult to know what really caused the fuss last Solstice - 8 months later, and with neo-nazi elected representation in Germany not one of the witnesses to the incident wish give evidence against the 7. Two of the men including the one quoted are "neo-Nazis" but "repentent about the bad stuff" they are also volunteer firemen serving their community. One is a stigmata which without proper explanation and justification has become fetishised (that word again)by the good citizen who would happily in 20 years time sanction any measure called for "to stop the Migrant threat!" whilst the other is the sort of thing that looks good on your CV in a zone of 17% unemployment and unless there's a lot of arson a chance to practise pool or build muscles on the weight machine.

Another day I'd gladly explore and explain how in many ways our demonisation of "the evil ones of whom we do not speak" has made us less capable of tackling them when we realise they have arrived "for real" now - and did years ago. Our "neoNazi" stories are lame and tame. Yes these men committed a crime it took 10 days to get down on paper. Yes it is awful to burn a book - Anne Frank's makes it worse it is sick - but The next step of the far-right is mainstreaming - Which they will do by finding common ground with many other smaller groups which form part of wider much larger and diverse social "collectives" for want of a better word or jargon. To whom this case and the controversy it raised last year will provide oxygen. A suitable punishment would be a long reading list- or would that put people off books?
it was in my opinion a horrible crime yet on the sentimental level - The work of Anne Frank is not altered nor her memory that is to say her testament. But one which is horrible not for the moment. I doubt the detail of the book being thrown at the fire got the village upset - i'm sure it was a nasty group of heads - but on reflection throwing that sweet young child's diary which should never have been read by another soul into the fire is on the level of taking eyes out of kittens. But only if you have read it. Otherwise it is meaningful as the phone book. I am aware that I do not know what a US flag being burnt means to some patriotic American... Anne Frank's testament is simply that she left her attic coming out from being the empty bookcase and went to a camp and died just a few weeks before the end of the war when she and her sister would have been hungry and far from home. How do we explain that to people?

Far right realities are not only found painted on gravestones - or urinated on the Berlin holocaust memorial- they get jobs - influence media - have radio shows - undermine rights - attacking migrants - the baseball bat - yet they give jobs to their own - experience marginalisation - experience illegalisation - in short they build movements that are much wider and deeper than the skinhead cliche.
When at a macro-level the German state saw a grand coalition formed which utterly devalued that smaller percentage of voters who had chosen either CDU or PSD (but not both) it is not surprising that extreme parties grow. They have been given fertile soil and water and left in the dark for just enough time. And their regional history as well as that of their immediate neighbours in the east of the EU mean "left" or "socialist" movements really aren't going to sell.,2144,2365002,00.html
"NeoNazis daub kindergarten (jewish) in Berlin Sunday 26 Feb,1518,468733,00.html

the book burning of 1933
the list of authors burnt -

" Since it's difficult to find basic information about the camps as well as a map that includes them, I created a chart that provides basic data and a detailed map indicating their locations.
I hope you will find these useful references. Best, Jen "here is the chart Jeny compiled of the camps and their nature-
here is the map

You may visit the Anne Frank site at

Oh yep don't forget that hiding books is just as bad as burning them. Goebbels was propaganda papering the removal of a culture. But under the other authoritarians of Europe from Salazar to DeValera- the books just didn't get printed.

the bookcase at 263 Prinsengracht which opened to Anne Frank's hiding place
the bookcase at 263 Prinsengracht which opened to Anne Frank's hiding place

the residual problem of Europe. neither flag design went away. Both are in the 12 starts of EU
the residual problem of Europe. neither flag design went away. Both are in the 12 starts of EU

 #   Title   Author   Date 
   Sedition Books Burnt in Houston     just a link    Tue Feb 27, 2007 11:50 
   from Dan Brown to Harry Potter - Insults to Erin to Ancient Civilisation - Homoerotica to Rushdie     iosaf    Tue Feb 27, 2007 15:10 
   I believe follow-up is important...german links of related interest & Hitler's citizenship & the G8     iosaf    Wed Mar 21, 2007 00:04 
   The Acts of Remembrance begin today     C.    Mon Apr 16, 2007 12:16 

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