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Opera House (Deutsche Staatsoper) and Opernplatz

Goebbels and his cronies watch with glee as the books are burned.

On May 10, 1933, in front of the opera house, Joseph Goebbels presided at the notorious book burning.

Georg Wenzeslas von Knobelsdorf built the opera house in neo-classical style, the first theater in Germany not part of a palace. In August 1843 the building burned to the ground. A year later Carl Ferdinand Langhans rebuilt it. In the 1920’s it was modernized, burnt down in 1941, was rebuilt, and destroyed in 1945. Under the first East German President, Wilhelm Pieck, the opera was rebuilt 1951-55, and inaugurated with a performance of Wagner’s Meistersinger. In 1986, the old inscription "Fridericus Rex Apollini et Musis" was carved on the pediment. To the west of the opera house is Bebelplatz (formerly Opernplatz), where the books were burned.

In 1933, the Hitler regime drew up lists of scholars and writers unacceptable to the New Order. Among them were Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Döblin, Erich Maria Remarque, Carl von Ossietzky, Kurt Tucholsky, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Erich Kästner, and Carl Zuckmayer. These authors were deemed to have created works that were decadent, materialistic, representative of "moral decline" or "cultural Bolshevism."

"Through light to night"On May 10, 1933, the books of unacceptable authors were burned. As Joseph Goebbels called out the names of ostracized writers, 20,000 volumes were heaved into a huge bonfire. University faculties and senates uttered nary a peep, and many attended. The poet Heinrich Heine, whose books were among those incinerated, had written, "Where books are burnt, in the end people are also burnt."

But if Dr. Goebbels didn’t ostentatiously burn your books, you were insulted. Humiliated and belittled at being denied this incendiary public recognition, playwright Bertolt Brecht (The Threepenny Opera, Mother Courage) wrote an angry poem, Die Bücherverbrennung (The Book Burning), demanding that the regime burn him, since it had not burned his writings.

A plaque at the book-burning site explains what happened there. In the middle of Bebelplatz, a 1995 memorial to the burned books, a glass window, looks down into a white chamber with empty bookcases. And every German schoolchild now reads Brecht, whose pacifism and anti-militarism are very much in vogue.

German newsreel film of book burning. A radio announcer states that we are at the Berlin Opernplatz and that students are making "Feuersprüchen" (fire-aphorisms) and burning books of "un-German spirit," after tossing the books onto a giant pyre. The announcer then informs listeners that Dr. Goebbels will speak. Goebbels stridently condemns class warfare, materialism, and Jewish influence. He proceeds to consign the "decadent" works of Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, et al. to the flames ("Ich übergebe dem Feuer die Schriften von Karl Marx..."). When Goebbels denounces the books of Emil Ludwig Kohn (the author Emil Ludwig, who wrote biographies of Napoleon and Goethe), the mob emits an approving roar. Goebbels' diatribe is now called die Feuerrede (the fire-speech).


Deutsche Studenten: Wir haben unsere Handeln gegen den undeutschen Geist gerichtet; übergebt alles undeutschen dem Feuer, gegen Klassenkampf und Materialismus, für Volksgemeinschaft und idealistische Lebenshaltung. Ich übergebe dem Feuer die Schriften von Karl Marx und Kautsky.

Gegen Dekadenz und moralischen Verfall! Für Zucht und Sitte in Familie und Staat! Ich übergebe dem Feuer die Schriften von Heinrich Mann, Ernst Glaeser und Erich Kästner.

Gegen Gesinnungslumperei und politischen Verrat, für Hingabe an Volk und Staat! Ich übergebe dem Feuer die Schriften des Friedrich Wilhelm Förster.

Gegen seelenzerfasernde Überschätzung des Trieblebens, für den Adel der menschlichen Seele! Ich übergebe dem Feuer die Schriften des Sigmund Freud.

Gegen Verfälschung unserer Geschichte und Herabwürdigung ihrer großen Gestalten, für Ehrfurcht vor unserer Vergangenheit! Ich übergebe dem Feuer die Schriften des Emil Ludwig Kohn und Werner Hegemann.

Gegen volksfremden Journalismus demokratisch-jüdischer Prägung, für verantwortungsbewusste Mitarbeit am Werk des nationalen Aufbaus! Ich übergebe dem Feuer die Schriften des Theodor Wolff und Georg Bernhard.

Gegen literarischen Verrat am Soldaten des Weltkrieges, für Erziehung des Volkes im Geist der Wahrhaftigkeit! Ich übergebe dem Feuer die Schriften des Erich Maria Remarque.

Gegen dünkelhafte Verhunzung der deutschen Sprache, für Pflege des kostbarsten Gutes unseres Volkes! Ich übergebe dem Feuer die Schriften des Alfred Kerr.

Gegen Frechheit und Anmaßung, für Achtung und Ehrfurcht vor dem unsterblichen deutschen Volksgeist. Verschlinge, Feuer, auch die Schriften der Tucholsky und Ossietzky!

German students: We have directed our dealings against the un-German spirit; consign everything un-German to the fire, against class conflict and materialism, for people, community, and idealistic living standards. I hand over the writings of Karl Marx and Kautsky to the fire.

Against decadence and moral decay! For discipline and propriety in family and state! I hand over to the fire the writings of Heinrich Mann, Ernst Glaeser and Erich Kästner.

Against a rascally attitude and political betrayal, for dedication to Volk and state! I hand over the writings of Friedrich Wilhelm Förster to the fire.

Against soul-fraying overestimation of the instinctual life, for the aristocracy of the human soul! I hand over the writings of Sigmund Freud to the fire.

Against falsification of our history and disparagement of its great figures, for respect for our past! I hand over the writings of Emil Ludwig Kohn and Werner Hegemann to the fire.

Against Jewish-democratic-influenced journalism alien to our people, for responsible collaboration in the work of national reconstruction! I hand over the writings of Theodor Wolff and Georg Bernhard to the fire.

Against literary betrayal of the soldiers of the world war, for education of the people in the spirit of truthfulness! I hand over the writings of Erich Maria Remarque to the fire.

Against condescending debasement of the German language, for care of the most precious property of our people! I hand over the writings of Alfred Kerr to the fire.

Against cheek and arrogance, for respect and reverence for the immortal German Volk-spirit. Devour, fire, also the writings of Tucholsky and Ossietzky!

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