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 Jack London.
Amongst the revolutionists I found, also, warm faith in the human, ardent idealism, sweetnesses of unselfishness, renunciation, and martyrdom...I was in touch with great souls who exalted flesh and spirit over dollars and cents, and to whom the thin wail of a starved slum child meant more than all the pomp and circumstance of commercial expansion and world empire. All about me were nobleness of purpose and heroism of effort.
—The Iron Heel, 1908
The Iron Heel (Die Eiserne Ferse)
The Jacket (The Star Rover; Zwangsjacke)
American author Jack London (1876–1916) joined the Socialist party after completing high school. He attended the University of California at Berkeley for one semester in 1896, and joined the Klondike gold rush in 1897. London wrote popular adventure tales, such as his 1903 work The Call of the Wild; indeed, he was one of the most widely read foreign authors in pre-Hitler Germany. From 1907, London attracted attention for his vocal support of socialism, giving lectures throughout the United States and writing several political novels. His 1908 novel The Iron Heel depicted the rise of fascism in an America eventually freed by a socialist hero. The Nazis burned this and other socialist-leaning works in 1933, but did not, however, ban London's adventure stories. After breaking with the Socialist party, London became increasingly isolated from his friends and political compatriots in the last years of his life. On November 22, 1916, London, an alcoholic and addicted to painkillers, died from an overdose of drugs.
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?