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May 10: The Socialism of Fools

May 9, 2015
2137446995More than twenty thousand books deemed “Un-German” were burned by the National Socialist German Students’ League on this date in 1933 at the Opernplatz — now the Bebelplatz — near the University of Berlin. The purge began four days earlier when books from Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institut für Sexualwissenschaft were taken from the institute’s library and piled in the square. Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels delivered a demagogic speech prior to the burning, which consumed works by Erich Maria Remarque, Heinrich Heine, Helen Keller, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, John Dos Passos, Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway, Upton Sinclair, Émile Zola, H. G. Wells, André Gide, Sigmund Freud, Maxim Gorky, Marcel Proust, Jack London, and many others. Bebelplatz is named for August Bebel, the socialist leader who popularized the description of anti-Semitism as “the socialism of fools.” A memorial sculpture consisting of a glass plate set into the cobblestones that gives a view of empty bookcases marks the spot (pictured above), and students of Humboldt University hold a book sale there each year to mark the anniversary. “The era of extreme Jewish intellectualism is now at an end. The breakthrough of the German revolution has again cleared the way on the German path... The future German man will not just be a man of books, but a man of character. It is to this end that we want to educate you. As a young person, to already have the courage to face the pitiless glare, to overcome the fear of death, and to regain respect for death — this is the task of this young generation” —Joseph Goebbels, Speech to the students in Berlin