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January 4, 2007

‘Fighting the Fires of Hate’: Odegaard Library hosts exhibit on Nazi book burnings

From Jan. 3 until Feb. 28, Odegaard Undergraduate Library will play host to an exhibit from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings will be presented in the lobby and on the second floor of the library.


“We heard about the exhibit more than two years ago and wanted to have it on loan here, but we didn’t have the money,” said Lynda Ekins, building facilities manager at Odegaard. “So we wrote to a number of local Jewish organizations, asking for support.” The Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center came forward with the funding.


The exhibit, which consists of 60 panels, features reproductions of photographs, newspapers, documents, posters and books, as well as four audiovisual programs and interactive computer stations. The jumping off point is an event that took place on May 10, 1933, when German students in 34 university towns burned about 25,000 books by 200 authors ranging from Helen Keller and Ernest Hemingway to Sigmund Freud. Calling it an “Action Against the Un-German Spirit,” the students claimed they were cleansing the national character of Jewish and other foreign influences.


Americans quickly condemned the book burnings as antithetical to the democratic spirit, and there were protests in many major cities. The exhibit focuses on how the burnings went on to became a potent symbol during World War II in America’s battle against Nazism. The Office of War Information, for example, used the incident in its PR materials, including one poster that read, “Books cannot be killed by fire. Books are weapons in the war of ideas.”


The exhibit also examines the continued impact of book burning on our public discourse. It includes, for example, images from a burning of Harry Potter books staged by a New Mexico church in 2001. One of the many people protesting the burning was dressed as Adolf Hitler.


The library will host two complementary exhibits. One will be a series of posters featuring the writers and artists whose works were burned, explaining the reasons they were targeted. The other will be a large mock bonfire of books in the lobby.

As part of the exhibit, Stephen Feinberg, director of national outreach in the education division of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, will speak on Using Images and Exhibits to Teach about the Holocaust. Feinberg is the co-author, with Samuel Totten, of Teaching and Studying the Holocaust. His speech will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, in 220 Odegaard, and he will do a seminar for K-12 teachers the following day at Seattle University.


The opening reception for the exhibit is from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 7, in 220 Odegaard. Ted Lord, executive director of Humanities Washington; and Deborah Jacobs, Seattle city librarian, will speak.


After its run at Odegaard, the exhibit goes on to Gonzaga University in Spokane, opening March 10.