Eighty years ago today, 40,000 people gathered in the Opernplatz in Berlin to witness one of the most famous book burnings in history. Books by authors including Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht and Karl Marx, as well as Ernest Hemingway, Jack London and Thomas Mann were burnt at a Nazi gathering on May 10th 1933 attended by Joseph Goebbels, according to the website of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
The burning was a coordinated action by the Nazi German Student Association's Main Office for Press and Propaganda, which they called a “cleansing” (Säuberung). Students marched in torchlit parades through university towns before burning "upwards of 25,000 books" throughout Germany.
That night came to symbolize the vile nature of the Nazi regime. In 1995, an underground memorial featuring empty bookshelves visible from above was installed in the square in Berlin where it took place.
Rebecca Knuth, author of Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction, told CBC News in 2010 that book burnings "are highly symbolic. When you destroy a book you are destroying your enemy and your enemy's beliefs."
That night in Berlin was just one event of a timeline of significant book burnings in history:
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