Emil Ludwig

In 1933, Nazi students at more than 30 German universities pillaged libraries in search of books they considered to be "un-German." Among the literary and political writings they threw into the flames were the works of Emil Ludwig.


For, just as Napoleon lived entirely without feeling for a fatherland: just as he would gladly have made his career anywhere, and merely placed the French before other peoples because he chanced to be their emperor, so, on the other hand, Stein lived and wrought entirely for the sake of his fatherland; and his Teutonic solidity (firmly rooted in his native soil),...remained estranged from the agility, the swiftness, which was so essential a part of Napoleon's makeup, and which the emperor used so adroitly. Here was a statesman whose one thought was Germany and the Germans, who wanted unity among the stocks speaking the same speech, even if such unity had to be achieved against the wishes of the weakling princes.
—Napoleon, Emil Ludwig, 1924

Which of Emil Ludwig's Works were Burned?

All works published before May 1933

Fire Oath

"Fire oaths" were statements to be read as books were tossed to the flames. The German Student Association sent out a circular containing these statements before the book burnings. The fire oaths then accompanied the burning of works written by the individual authors named in the statements.

Against the falsification of our history and disparagement of its great figures
For reverence for our past
Emil Ludwig, Werner Hegemann

Who was Emil Ludwig?

Liberal journalist and popular biographer Emil Ludwig (1881–1948), son of assimilated Jewish parents, briefly converted to Protestantism at age 21. He returned to Judaism after the assassination of Walter Rathenau, the foreign minister of Germany during the first years of the Weimar Republic and also an assimilated Jew. In 1906, Ludwig moved to Switzerland where he spent most of his life.

Emil Ludwig was known for a series of biographies about historical figures, including a controversial 1926 work about Bismarck, as well as biographies of Goethe, Michelangelo, Jesus, Napoleon, Sigmund Freud, and Ferdinand Lassalle, among others. After the Nazis came to power, Ludwig remained in Switzerland. From his home in Ascona, he wrote articles critical of Nazi rule and actively assisted fellow intellectuals seeking to flee Germany.

The Nazis banned and burned all of Emil Ludwig's works because of his opposition to Nazi rule, his Jewish heritage, and his sometimes controversial biographies, which they considered "un-German." In 1940, Ludwig emigrated to the United States.

Critical Thinking Questions

  • How did the German public react to the book burnings? What were some of the reactions outside of Germany?
  • Why do oppressive regimes promote or support censorship and book burning? How might this be a warning sign of mass atrocity?

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