It is estimated that over a third of all German books had already been destroyed by bombing in West Germany alone,* and this does not include those books in the areas taken from Germany after the war. Added to the millions of German books destroyed worldwide during the anti-German hysteria of World War One, far more German books were destroyed in the twentieth century than likely exist today. But before we discuss it further, let us go back in time a bit.
Until the advent of the printing press, books were hand-scribed and existed in only one or a few copies. Burning them ensured that no one would ever read them. One man would soon change that.In 1454, Johannes Gutenberg began to print the first book made by movable type. He put six presses in operation and he set type for his most monumental task: printing the entire Bible. At the time, Bibles were rare and hard to find. Even Martin Luther did not see a complete Bible until adulthood. Gutenberg’s excellent workmanship paid off and his Bible was the first book ever printed considered by many to be the most beautiful book as well. Each Bible had 1,282 pages with 42 lines on a page divided into two columns. He printed 300 copes of each page and bound them to make 300 identical Bibles. In 1519, there were only 900 books printed in Germany. By 1521, there were half a million Luther bibles alone printed.
Now German rather than Latin Bibles were published at such a low price that the masses could own and read one without priestly interpretation. Within 50 years, more than nine million copies of books had been printed, and book burning was no longer an effective thought-control measure.
Little is known about Gutenberg and not a single proven portrait of him exists, but he may have looked down from the heavens as Germany’s first official censorship office was established 20 years after his bible was printed and a local Archbishop pleaded with town officials to censor “dangerous publications.” In England, Henry VIII required printers to submit all manuscripts to the Church of England for approval, and he outlawed all imported publications in 1529. French king Francis I issued an edict prohibiting the printing of books in 1535. By 1559, in reaction to the spread of Protestantism and scientific inquiry, the Roman Catholic Church issued the Index Librorum Prohibitorum to guide censors as to which publications to allow. The Index eventually listed 5,000 titles and existed until 1966.
While the European kings and priests were busy burning, over in the new world of 1650, the Puritan general court in Massachusetts confiscated and condemned a religious pamphlet by William Pynchon and it was burned in the Boston marketplace in what was probably the first American book-burning.
Beginning with the 1735 trial of New York publisher John Peter Zenger, however, the laws governing censorship in the United States have been clear. Truth is an absolute protection for those charged with making hurtful, damaging, or embarrassing statements about anyone or anything.
Zenger was a German immigrant who came to America as an indentured servant and experienced tyranny in his new homeland first hand. Against incredible odds he succeeded in a world which had regarded him as an inferior. Yet so strong was his faith in freedom and in the rights of man to form his own opinions, that he risked his life for these tenets of a free society.Zenger’s Trial
During the Age of Enlightenment, more freedom to read material of one’s choice was enjoyed in Europe than in today’s European Union, and this contributed to an intellectually curious society. But soon calls for censorship arose, cloaked in sanctimonious prattle such as “preventing corruption of the young” (ironically a concept often cited in the German censorship laws today).
Later, in the USA, Special Agent of the U.S. Post Office Anthony Comstock founded the “New York Society for the Suppression of Vice” in 1872 and convinced Congress to pass the “Comstock Law” which banned the mailing of “lewd, indecent, filthy or obscene” materials which included, among other classics, The Arabian Nights, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Authors Censored under the Comstock Law include Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Victor Hugo, D.H. Lawrence, John Steinbeck, and Eugene O’Neill.
We might think those days were long behind a progressive society, but not under certain circumstances, and “re-education” of Germans was one a circumstance.
The Allied consensus upon victory was the doctrine of collective guilt: all Germans, young or old, shared the blame for the war. The idea was entrenched enough that it caused no surprise when U.S. President Harry S. Truman refused to alleviate the famine of the German population in December, 1945, stating : “though all Germans might not be guilty for the war, it would be too difficult to try to single out for better treatment those who had nothing to do with the Nazi regime and its crimes.” Apparently this applied even to babies and young children. It was during this time, when German cities were in rubble, millions were dead or missing and anywhere up to 20 million homeless Germans were living on food rations of less than 1,000 calories a day, that both the British and the Americans took control of German media to instill a sense of collective guilt in the population.
Not only was there was unfettered plunder and looting of German libraries and schools, the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) had been fully organized in anticipation of victory and almost instantly embarked upon an intense, well-mapped psychological propaganda campaign for the purpose of developing a German sense of collective guilt and, using the American controlled German media, launched a massive campaign to shock and subjugate the German mind. This including control over what they read.SHAEF
All German literature found in both the Soviet and the Western Occupation Zones was subjected to censorship. In the U.S. zone, it was regulated by the occupation directive JCS 1067 valid until July 1947, and in the May 1946 order valid for all zones until 1950. Allied Control Authority Order No. 4 stated: “Confiscation of Literature and Material of a Nazi and Militarist Nature” dictated that all confiscated literature was reduced to pulp instead of burning to avoid accusations of book burning! Unfortunately, those in charge of disposal often didn’t know Goethe from Goofy, and thousands of innocuous, even rare, books were “pulped.”
The first such list of material was followed by three supplements, totaling 35,000 books and a ban was applied to all textbooks published from 1933 to 1945. All such publications and materials were ordered by the Allied “re-education” teams to be “released to the Commanders of each Zone to be destroyed” and all books having “National Socialist propaganda, racial teachings and calls to violence or propaganda directed against the United Nations, etc.” were removed from all libraries, schools, universities, research institutes, academies, technical or academic societies, bookstores, publishing houses and even from some private homes... and then destroyed. This massive, haphazard vandalism was carried out by unqualified people from 1946 to 1952, and many books were lost forever due to careless storage and handling, all under the battle cry of making the world a safer place.
This was the greatest campaign of book destruction of all time and ended up being applied not only to the offending books, but to poetry, philosophy, musical verse, calendars, horse books, books about trade and agriculture, driving manuals, books about flowers, home building, barns, astronomy, plumbing, poets, tennis and books about gardening. Hundreds of years of German history and culture were lost due to this arrogant abuse of authority, brazen incompetence and total ignorance.
Books about birds made the list, as well as books by Friedrich the Great and Bismarck and antique European military history books. Popular children’s books, including rare editions of the Brothers Grimm, were pulped on the grounds that they “provoked violence.” Everything about the Olympic Games of 1936 was banned. Books by the ancient poets were pulped. Even books once banned by the NS were destroyed! Sloppy handling caused the loss of the entire musical works of Richard Strauss and several Gutenberg bibles were fried in this orgy of stupidity.TIME Article
Greed also played a part. The British Library was so disgusted and frightened by German books that it alone possesses about 12,000 books the Allies seized from German libraries and institutions between June 1944 and 1947. The US Library of Congress was so appalled by dangerous German books that it obtained over 819,000 Allied confiscated German books by 1948 and 2 million other pieces of German literature. Congress kept 28% of the stock, including Hitler’s private library, and sent 72% to the Association of Research Libraries. Only a small portion was ever returned to Germany. The French take is unclear, but the Soviets stole a lion’s share, especially rare illuminated medieval manuscripts, but they were at least direct: since “Germany started the war” they deserved to loot German cultural history. Millions of other German books that survived the bombings and looting were stolen by occupying soldiers.
Beginning with “re-education” at the end of the War, Germany has continued the strict censorship imposed by the Soviet and the Allied occupiers. Even today, using the “special history” excuse, “nationalistic” books, songs and symbols are illegal even in private in Austria and Germany, and Germany has been aggressive in trying to expand its own strict laws beyond its borders. Almost all prosecutions of censorship violations have taken place in connection with what they term holocaust “revisionism” or “denial.” Merely questioning an aspect, re-analyzing data, expressing a maverick theory or trying to revise a statistic pertaining to this subject is lumped under “holocaust denial” which is illegal not only in Germany and Austria, but in most of Europe. “To have failed to write about a particular historical event in a balanced manner” (?) is a crime that can send an amateur historian to jail and he will often serve a longer sentence than a child molester or serial rapist.
Thousands of people have been convicted of violating European “denial” laws and they are currently languishing in European dungeons. Cases prosecuted under these laws go unchallenged even when the convicted parties were pacifists and never proposed violence but were simply expressing their opinion. In the cases of scientists, artists, singers or writers convicted of this offense, their homes and businesses are raided and their work is destroyed by the state. Worse, the definition of “denial” is being broadened and is defined today as “hard-core” and “soft-core” denial, the latter including discussion of the Allied bombing campaign against Germany as well as the Expulsions of ethnic German civilians after the war. Even liberal writers extremely critical of the Third Reich have been tarnished as “soft-core deniers” when they came out with books discussing the heavy toll of Allied bombing upon the German civilians in the war.
Canadians are now also paying the price for exercising their right to free expression. Their Human Rights Act “guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society” and this has been interpreted by the Canadian courts and Human Rights Commission in a such manner which makes its constitutional guarantee of free speech pretty much meaningless when compared to other “collective rights and interests.” It is utterly useless in protecting free speech when that speech might offend someone as this turns an insult into “hate speech.” The Act states: “Freedom of expression ceases to be a fundamental characteristic of democratic values when it becomes a vehicle for the promotion of hate.” Exactly how hate is defined is left up to the courts, bureaucrats, special interest groups, panels and politicians. Books and videos of an “offending” nature are destroyed and such material found by Canadian customs guards at the US border is destroyed.
Like European “anti-racism” and “denial” laws, the persistent efforts to curb free speech in the US have generally been proposed under the guise of preventing “racial hatred.” The US, with its foundations rooted in individual liberty, does not have censorship laws as such, but it is being steadily pressured in that direction by proposals of insidiously twined “hate crime” laws with censorship laws. These zealous efforts, however innocuous on the surface, quickly escalate into full fledged assaults upon individual liberties and cherished legal traditions of free speech. The prosecution needs only to show that someone became or could become a “hater” due to reading an offending book, viewing an offending website or listening to an offending speech or song, the authors of such books, sites or songs therefore become guilty of “spreading hate” by default! By this fancy footwork, an illegal act is redefined from what one DID DO into what one MIGHT DO, or more aptly, what one MIGHT THINK, and this is followed by a mess of judicial silliness and sloppy prosecutions based on emotion, politics and hurt feelings rather than respectable jurisprudence.
In short, with language straight out of 16th century religious heresy or witch trials, today’s efforts to impose censorship are in reality just an extension of an age old struggle. Only the names, dates and stated intentions have changed.
* Allied bombing of Germany caused extensive destruction of German libraries, including but not limited to the Library of the Technical University of Aachen (50,000 volumes), the Berlin Staatsbibliothek (2 million volumes), the Berlin University Library (20,000 volumes), the Bonn University Library (25% of its holdings), the Bremen Staatsbibliothek (150,000 volumes), the Hessische Landesbibliothek in Darmstadt (760,000 volumes), the Library of the Technical University in Darmstadt (two thirds of its collection), the Stadt- und Landesbibliothek in Dortmund (250,000 of 320,000 volumes), the Sächsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden (300,000 volumes), the Stadtbibliothek in Dresden (200,000 volumes), the Essen Stadtbücherei (130,000 volumes), the Frankfurt Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek (550,000 volumes, 440,000 doctoral dissertations, 750,000 patents), the Giessen University Library (nine tenths of its collection), the Greifswald University Library (17,000 volumes), the Hamburg Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek (600,000 volumes), the Hamburg Commerz-Bibliothek (174,000 of 188,000 volumes), the Hannover Stadtbibliothek (125,000 volumes), the Badische Landesbibliothek in Karlsruhe (360,000 volumes), the Library of the Technical University in Karlsruhe (63,000 volumes), the Kassel Landesbibliothek (350,000 of 400,000 volumes), the Murhardsche Bibliothek in Kassel (100,000 volumes), the Kiel University Library (250,000 volumes), the Leipzig Stadtbibliothek (175,000 of 181,000 volumes), the Magdeburg Stadtbibliothek (140,000 of 180,000 volumes), the Marburg University Library (50,000 volumes), the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich (500,000 volumes), the Munich University Library (350,000 volumes), the Munich Stadtbibliothek (80,000 volumes), the Munich Benedictine Library (120,000 volumes), the Münster University Library (360,000 volumes), the Nürnberg Stadtbibliothek (100,000 volumes), the Württembergische Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart (580,000 volumes), the Library of the Technical University in Stuttgart (50,000 volumes), the Würzburg University Library (200,000 volumes and 230,000 doctoral dissertations). Source: UNESCO. General Information Programme and UNISIST, “Lost Memory – Libraries and Archives Destroyed in the Twentieth Century” 1996.
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race, posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error.” – John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859