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 Theodor Wolff.
In all the prosecutions of high treason...[the German] Supreme Court has identified criminals only among the left wing. It looks at the overthrow of the government, demanded and openly or secretly prepared by the right wing, by the National Socialists and those of similar ilk, with an almost approving toleration.
—Berliner Tageblatt, July 13, 1930
"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 the Democratic-Jewish character of journalism alien to the nation
For responsible collaboration on the work of national construction
Theodor Wolff and George Bernhard
Um Alles, 1932
Editorials in Berliner Tageblatt
Influential German journalist Theodor Wolff (1868-1943) was a vocal opponent of the Nazis. Chief editor of the liberal newspaper Berliner Tageblatt for nearly half a century, Wolff, an assimilated, non-practicing Jew, was perceived by the Nazis as the symbol of a Jewish-controlled press determined to undermine German national pride. Issues of the Berliner Tageblatt, including Wolff's editorials were among those items burned by the students in May 1933.
Wolff had been a sharp opponent of the Nazis through the Weimar years. His paper had engaged in harsh exchanges with the Nazi press. In 1933, he was targeted in particular by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, with whom he had frequently clashed in print during the last years of the Weimar Republic. His 1932 work Um Alles was a plea for democracy and tolerance.
In 1933, Wolff immigrated to France, where he was betrayed to the Gestapo ten years later. Interned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Wolff was released only to die in a hospital for Jews in the Moabit section of Berlin.
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?