The Book; yes, their Book. They had no state, holding them together, no country, no soil, no king, no form of life in common. If, in spite of this, they were one, more one than all the other peoples of the world, it was the Book that sweated them into unity. Brown, white, black, yellow Jews, large and small, splendid and in rags, godless and pious, they might crouch and dream all their lives in a quiet room, or fare splendidly in a radiant, golden whirlwind over the earth, but sunk deep in all of them was the lesson of the Book. Manifold is the world, but it is vain and fleeting as wind; but one and only is the God of Israel, the everlasting, the infinite, the Jehovah.
—Jud Süss, 1925
All works published before May 1933
Best-selling author Lion Feuchtwanger (1884-1958), born in Munich, was raised in an observant Jewish and patriotic German household. He studied German history and began writing plays and stories at age 19. Most of his novels took historical themes.
After serving in the German army during World War I, Feuchtwanger's writing took a leftist political turn. His 1930 novel Erfolg (Success) provided a thinly veiled criticism of the Beer Hall Putsch and Hitler's rise to leadership in the Nazi Party. Feuchtwanger's Jewishness, the Jewish themes of his early fiction, and his close association with Bertolt Brecht were among the causes for his persecution. After the Nazi takeover on January 30, 1933, his house in Berlin was illegally searched and his invaluable library plundered by the Nazis during his lecture tour in the United States.
1933 was an eventful year for Feuchtwanger. All of his works were burned in the book burnings of May, and his anti-Nazi novel The Oppermans was published in Amsterdam and became a huge success. In the same year, Feuchtwanger moved to the south of France where he remained an adamant opponent of the Nazi regime. His popular 1925 work Jud Süss, about an eighteenth-century court Jew, was used by the Nazis for a 1939 antisemitic propaganda film of the same name. After the Germans invaded France in 1940, Feuchtwanger was detained in the Les Milles internment camp.
His wife organized his escape with the help of US Consuls Hiram Bingham and Miles Standish as well as US citizens Varian Fry and the Reverend Waitstill Sharp. Feuchtwanger ultimately found asylum in the United States. In 1941 he settled in southern California, where he continued to write until his death in 1958.
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?