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 Werner Hegemann.
The delayed protest of the German clergy against bad taste and customs has been in vain even unto today. Barbarism has been victorious this year [early in 1933] from top to bottom. It has overtaken masters and servants and conquerors.
—Entlarvte Geschichte (Unmasked History), 1933
"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 falsification of our history and disparagement of its great figures
For reverence for our past
Emil Ludwig, Werner Hegemann
Entlarvte Geschichte (Unmasked History), 1933.1
The Nazis attacked ideas contrary to their own in all professions and pursuits. Werner Hegemann (1881-1936) was a prestigious city planner. He lived in the United States and did major work as a city planner as early as World War I, but returned to Berlin in 1924.
Hegemann had developed a theory of urban planning that was premised on social priorities in laying out a decentralized city. The transportation system in this decentralized city would have appropriated some large landed estates. Hegemann's works praising American architecture and his modest sketches of German historical figures that ran counter to the Nazis' worshipful biographies brought him to the attention of the Nazis. They deprived him of his German citizenship.
Hegemann immigrated to the United States via Czechoslovakia and became a professor of urban planning at Columbia University.
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?
Curatorial note: This title was in good part shredded at the publisher when the Nazis came to power. The second edition appeared one year later in Prague.