To the Editor,
May 10 is the 90th anniversary of the 1933 purging of public and private libraries in Germany. Nazis snatched books from shelves, throwing them in the street to burn because …
To the Editor,
May 10 is the 90th anniversary of the 1933 purging of public and private libraries in Germany. Nazis snatched books from shelves, throwing them in the street to burn because politicians claimed they were indecent. There was shock and outrage throughout Europe and the United States, and I am sure other countries. English and French committees worked to preserve the ideas Nazis tried to destroy by founding libraries of Nazi Banned books.
At the New York synagogue where my grandfather was administrative director, a call went out ”. . . to preserve, in readily accessible collections, all books which the Nazis outlawed in Germany . . . monuments both to the men and women who created them and to the barbarity of those who, with medieval fanaticism, burned them.”
The synagogue leaders formed a board to advise, publicize, raise funds, and develop a local Library of Nazi-Banned Books. Among its members were physicist Albert Einstein, historian Will Durant, anthropologist Franz Boaz, NAACP founding member Oswald Garrison Villard, Henry Street Settlement founder Lillian Wald, writers Theodore Dreiser, Sholom Asch, and Upton Sinclair, and others. The library opened December 22, 1934.
It comes as a personal affront that members of the Rhode Island House of Representatives submitted House bill H 6324. That bill holds the state legislative library and public and charter school libraries liable for distributing “indecent” material to minors with threats of fines and prison terms for the librarians.
In other states such actions inspired attacks on Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning books. The Missouri House threatened all state library funding. A western Michigan town voted to close the library over LGBTQ+ themed books. A Texas county tried to shut their library after a judge ordered banned books returned to the shelves. A school board in Tennessee banned Maus. As the book’s author pointed out, “they want to teach a nicer Holocaust.” Parents are demanding books be denied, not just to their own children, but to every child, even those whose parents want their children to read those books. Parents deserve a say in what their own children read, but deciding what other children read goes beyond parental choice, becoming censorship. These book bans recall the actions of a barbarous political regime 90 years ago.
In The Better Angels of our Nature, Steven Pinker writes that a lessening of hatred toward minority groups in Europe several centuries back was partially the result of a growing familiarity with those groups from reading works of fiction. No wonder groups trying to prevent normalizing other groups, whether defined by religion, race, or gender identity, view books as a danger.
Books deal with complicated issues, but limiting access doesn’t protect children from those issues. Knowing that other people dealt with similar problems makes it easier for children. Young people must see people like themselves when they read.
We need to tell our political leaders we value our libraries, we can make our own individual and family choice of what is acceptable, and not permit "medieval fanaticism" to restrict our access to the ideas and joys in books. Let this 90th anniversary of a terrible day be one in which our better angels lead us in a better direction.
Michael H. Goldberg