Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Banned and Burned Books

Last Tuesday night I had the privilege of viewing the traveling exhibit from USHMM called Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings at the Wyandotte County Historical Museum. If you’ve never seen this exhibit it’s sobering to say the least. The primary source photos and text focus on the book burnings of May 10, 1933 and America’s response to this tragedy. I overheard someone at the viewing say “It’s too bad America wasn’t as upset about the people burning later as they were when the Nazis burned the books!” How sad but true. However, my part in the evening, as a middle school librarian, was to speak about book burning in America today and comparing it to the Nazis destruction of eventually 100 million books throughout Occupied Europe in their 12 year reign.

I work with my 6th – 8th graders every year through our “Right to Read” lessons in September. So I had lots of insight into challenges and bannings that go on in this country. I also teach my students why these books are offensive to some people. These same people then work to have these books removed from libraries not just for their own children but for everyone’s! Thankfully these folks are rarely successful but that’s because we have a 1st Amendment and the ALA (American Library Association).

Preparing and delivering this presentation, I was struck by the similarities between the Nazis and their reasons for burning books almost 80 years ago and our reasons today: Homosexuality/sexual content and profanity, Un-German/Un-American, not age appropriate/degenerate. I was also amazed at how shocked most of my audience was when they saw the ALA’s Top 10 List of most challenged books in 2009. The titles and reasons were absurd in many cases and people’s nervous laughter made me realize the importance of my words that evening.

Awareness is everything and avoiding book burnings in our own country takes our vigilance and constant attention. As the Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, once said, and it can’t be said enough, “Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too.”

No comments:

Post a Comment