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 Rosa Luxemburg.
Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element.
—Prison notes, 1918; The Russian Revolution, 1922
Rosa Luxemburg (1870–1919) was nicknamed "Red Rosa" because of both her politics and her hair color. She was celebrated in interwar German literature as a martyr to the Marxist cause. Nationalists and middle-class politicians in post-World War I Germany despised her leadership, organizational skills, charisma, and fierce support for radical leftist ideas first in her native Polish provinces of the Russian Empire and later in Germany. A leader of the radical wing of the German Social Democratic Party since 1899, she had been imprisoned for socialist agitation during World War I.
After Germany's defeat, Luxemburg was released during the November 1918 republican revolution. With her friend, Karl Liebknecht, she assumed the leadership of the radical independent socialists. This group would, after Luxemburg's death, become the Communist Party of Germany. During a brief, unsuccessful Communist uprising in Berlin in January 1919, she and Liebknecht were captured by right-wing paramilitary freebooters and murdered; Luxemburg's body was thrown into a canal. After the Nazis came to power 14 years later, they blacklisted and burned Luxemburg's political pamphlets and her book The Accumulation of Capital.
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?