John Dos Passos

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 John Dos Passos.

Excerpt

To Revolution! To Anarchy! To the Socialist State!
—One Man's Initiation: 1917, 1920

Works Burned

All works published before May 1933

Summary

American writer John Dos Passos (1896–1970) underwent several political conversions in his rather adventurous life. After graduating from Harvard in 1916, he volunteered for the French army. He later served as a medic in the US Army after American entry into World War I. At Verdun, he saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war. His first two novels—One Man's Initiation: 1917 and Three Soldiers—published in 1920 and 1921, respectively, are based on his experiences at the front. He attacked war as a capitalist tool for enslaving workers, and advocated pacifism and social reform.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Dos Passos, focusing his literary energy on the ills of capitalism, became a hero to the political left. The Nazis condemned and burned his works for their leftist leanings. Dos Passos' Communist leanings and his participation in the Spanish Civil War made him persona non grata to Nazi Germany's rulers, even though he would later break with Communism in the wake of Stalin's purges.

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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