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Where they burn books…

That was but a prelude. Where they burn books, they also end up burning people.

Heinrich Heine, 1820

In the middle of this square, on the 10th of May 1933, Nazi students burned the works of hundreds of independent authors, journalists, philosophers and scholars.

Plaque explaining “Bibliothek”, Bebelplatz, Berlin

This is a translation of a plaque explaining “Bibliothek”, the memorial to the book-burning of 10 May 1933, constructed 1994/95 by Micha Ullmann, Bebelplatz, Unter den Linden, Berlin, Germany.

Bibliothek: memorial to the book-burning of 10 May 1933 by Micha Ullmann, Bebelplatz, Berlin.

The memorial is underground, and almost unnoticeable until you walk over it (a friend pointed it out to us as she was showing us around Berlin). It consists of a library containing bookshelves with space for around 20,000 books. The shelves, which can be seen through a window set into the ground of the square, are completely empty. It’s a reminder of the more than 20,000 volumes that were symbolically cast into the flames by the Nazi German Student Union and their teachers as part of the nationwide “Action against the un-German Spirit”.

Remember

A memorial is created so that we do not forget. And we do need to remember. Technology has changed, so physical ritual book burnings in a physical public square aren’t too likely to happen. But could we ever end up in a situation where a social media movement, full of righteous outrage, driven by a newly dominant ideology, spurred on by a sense of justice for previously downtrodden identity groups, forces blacklists, mass deletions or restrictions of accounts and sites that do not conform to the spirit of the age? In our modern outrage culture where public shaming is the norm, it’s not too far-fetched, is it? Let’s keep remembering, so that it never happens.

“Where they burn books, they also end up burning people.”

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