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 Sigmund Freud.
Men are strong only so long as they represent a strong idea. They become powerless when they oppose it.
—Zur Geschichte der psychoanalytischen Bewegung (The History of the Psychoanalytical Movement), Sigmund Freud, 1914
"Fire oaths" were statements to be read as books were tossed to the flames. The German Student Association sent out a circular containing these statements before the book burnings. The fire oaths then accompanied the burning of works written by the individual authors named in the statements.
Against soul-shredding overvaluation of sexual activity
For the nobility of the human soul
Freudian School, magazine Imago
Which of Sigmund Freud's Works were Burned?
All works published before May 1933
Who was Sigmund Freud?
Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), the founder of psychoanalysis, was born in Vienna, Austria. Freud's new science and Jewish heritage were anathema to the Nazi regime. The Nazis raided Freud's house after the 1938 annexation of Austria and "confiscated" all the money they found. Freud, with acerbic wit, quipped afterwards: "I never received as much for a house call." During the 1933 book burnings, a special "fire oath" was said against the "soul-shredding overvaluation of sexual activity" as Freud's writings were burned. Following international interventions, Freud was permitted to emigrate to England, along with his wife, daughter, housekeeper, and medical caretaker. His sisters were murdered in concentration camps in 1941. Freud, already suffering from cancer while in Austria, died in England in 1939.
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?