"That was only a prelude; where you burn books, you also burn people in the end."
Heinrich Heine's ominous prophecy - made in a completely different context - was to come horribly true more than a century later. First the books burned, then the people.
A brief overview
Between spring and fall 1933, pyres filled with books blazed in 70 German cities, including Regensburg. From the very beginning, the National Socialists were concerned with crushing "all opposition to Hitler in culture, science and politics." The book burnings in particular can be regarded as a symbol of "the spirit of destruction" of this criminal regime, the end result of which was the murder of millions and the devastation of an entire continent.
Famous is a quote of the Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller, which impressively shows how perfidious the system worked: "When the Nazis brought in the Communists, I kept silent; after all, I was not a Communist. When they locked up the Social Democrats, I kept silent, I was not a Social Democrat. When they took the trade unionists, I kept silent, I was not a trade unionist. When they came for me, there was no one left to protest."
In total, no fewer than 93 burnings were counted in 70 cities throughout the Reich for the year 1933. And while in the public consciousness it is primarily the events on Berlin's Opernplatz in May 1933 and the "Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist" (action against the un-German spirit), which emanated from the "Deutsche Studentenschaft" (German student body), that are linked with the burning of books, a closer look reveals that in reality there were many actors, and thus many different motives for the burnings. It can be stated, for example, that it was primarily young people in the age cohort from about 14 to about 30 who stood out in the organization of the book burnings. In this way, they openly declared their support for the ideology of National Socialism.
Which books were burned?
The lists, according to which the books were selected for burning, had been compiled mainly by a librarian (Dr. Wolfgang Hermann). A total of 131 writers, 94 German-language and 37 foreign-language, were on a list published in the "Börsenblatt für den deutschen Buchhandel" on May 16, 1933. In places, the list reads like a "Who's Who" of 20th century intellectual and literary history: Bertold Brecht, Sigmund Freud, Erich Kästner, Kurt Tucholsky, Ernest Hemingway and many more. But also political writings, for example by August Bebel, Theodor Heuss, Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, to list just a few, were noted and thus burned in many places. There were calls for books and writings of all "Marxist, pacifist and democratic literature" to be burned.
The book burning in Regensburg
In Regensburg, the book burning took place on Friday, May 12, 1933 on Neupfarrplatz - in the middle of the old town. This "action" in the Danube city was initiated and carried out by the local Hitler Youth. It was probably no coincidence that the Nazi book burning in Regensburg took place on Neupfarrplatz, located in the old town - the place whose history the National Socialists active in the cathedral city vehemently tried to change.
Neupfarrplatz is not one of those squares that have "grown", as it were, in the course of the almost 2000-year history of the old city, but had only come into being in 1519 as a result of a violent intervention in the building fabric of the city during a pogrom. The Jewish quarter located there, until that year home to one of the oldest and most important Jewish communities in southern Germany, was destroyed (more about the Neupfarrplatz: The gothic synagogue and memorial "Misrach" and document Neupfarrplatz).
The book burnings and other initial measures unmasked the intentions of the National Socialists and revealed early on the barbaric spirit inherent in this regime.