Ferdinand Lassalle

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 Ferdinand Lassalle.

Excerpt

The ruling class of a society always and invariably makes use of government authority, polity, in order to secure in the constitution its dominance over the other classes, etc.
—Geschichte der sozialen Entwicklung (History of Social Evolution), ca. 1860

Works Burned

All except Assisenreden (Jury Speeches) and Arbeiter-Programm (Working Man's Program)

Summary

Socialist leader Ferdinand Lassalle (1825-1864) was born in Breslau, Germany. He was roughly a contemporary of Karl Marx (with whom he corresponded for several years), but while Marx advocated a revolution of the proletariat, Lassalle championed an evolutionary approach. He was a founder of the German labor movement. Lassalle held that the German working class had to organize itself into a national association whose immediate goal would be direct, universal suffrage. He was in touch with leading intellectuals and writers of his time, including Heinrich Heine, and with several leaders of the abortive 1848 revolutionary movement. In his books he envisioned a better world under a fair-minded proletarian government. The Nazis burned Lassalle's works, some 70 years after his death, because of their socialist doctrine.

Critical Thinking Questions

  • If Jews were the principal target during the Holocaust, why were books written by non-Jewish authors burned?
  • 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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