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 Sholem Asch.
And there were also lights shining from the windows of the everyday prayer room of the synagogue, opposite Reb Yechezkiel's windows. Six little lights were shining into the night fog from the room where a simple everyday prayer from the heart of an old tailor was repeated, 'May the Lord forgive us our evil deeds, and spare us from destruction.'
—A Shtetl (A Village), 1904
All works published before May 1933
Yiddish dramatist and novelist Sholem Asch (1880-1957) was born in Kutno, Poland, to a religiously observant family. His sympathetic depictions of small town Jewish life in Poland, as exemplified by his 1917 novel Motke Ganef (Motke the Thief), contradicted the Nazi stereotype of the "degenerate Jew." Consequently, his fiction was abhorrent to the Nazis. All of his works published before May 1933 were to be burned.
Asch also addressed socialist themes in his writing, as in his 1918 work Onkl Mozes (Uncle Moses), where he portrayed labor disputes in an American sweatshop. Asch emigrated to the United States in 1909 and became a citizen in 1920, but returned to Poland that year. His US citizenship enabled him in 1938 to return to the United States, where he later became an active and effective board member of the Fund for Jewish Refugee Writers.
Asch spent his last few years in Tel Aviv and died in London in 1957.
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?