The one feature of the human species which I find to be the prime symbol of cowardice and intolerance is book burnings. It seems to me so stupendous, a sheer act of ignorance which in my views proves the barren grounds on which the foundations of such acts are build.
No matter how much people disagree, even down to their very foundations, no man has the right to silence another's mind.
It is only a matter of cowardice to do so, and I always feel enraged whenever I read of this. If one have a problem, one should improve one's argument against the work not set fire to the book. As Milton said: He who destroys a good book kills reason itself.
Sadly, many examples can too easily be found in history but on this day, 80 years ago, we commemorate the Nazi Book Burnings in 1933.
From the 10th of May to Midsummer's Day in 1933, the Nationalsozialistischer Deutsche Studentenschaft (the Nazi student organization) organized and carried out over 30 burnings of book which were found to be 'un-German'. It is estimated that over 40,000 people participated in the burnings and over 25,000 books by estimated 1,200 artists were destroyed. These artists were not just Jewish, as one might think, but also anyone who were deemed immoral or at a danger to the German people, dealing with decadence or women's rights as a couple of examples. Even high treason as the WWI German writer Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front shows. The list of writers whose works were burned is almost a who's who of today's most influential and celebrated writers.
In Berlin, at what is today named Bebelplatz (the site of the Berlin burning), is a monument to commemorate the book burnings by the Israeli sculptur, 'Bibliotek' by Micha Ullman.
It is an installation or a sculpture sunken down in the square consisting of white shelves with room for approximately 20,000 books, but all empty.
It was erected in 1995 and the bronze platter quotes one of the writers whose works were destroyed, the Jewish-German poet Heinrich Heine's play Almansor from 1821:
Das war ein Vorspeil nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen
(That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will, ultimately, burn people also)
The coldness of this sinister foretelling highlights the coldness of ignorance and blind hatred which, to my point of view, always have been the prime agents of book burnings, or burnings of people. Sadly, there seems to be a renewed example of this meaningless destruction everytime a conflict escalates between an established moral and art; the three most recent examples that I can think of would be the planned burnings of the holy Muslim scripture of Q'uran, the burnings of the Harry Potter-books, and the burnings of the Baghdad Library in Iraq.
All of which make me wonder whether the human race will ever be at peace and work towards a common good or goal.
Maybe this day, commemorating the Nazi example 80 years ago, will become a shared symbol of avoiding such actions. Though I doubt it.