SEX BURNS – May 6-13, 1933: The Berlin Institute for Sexual Research and Nazi “Säuberung” Book Burnings

Book Burnings

On the night of May 10, 1933, less than six months after Adolf Hitler and the Nazis had come to power, Hitler Youth and right-wing students in 34 university towns across Germany marched in torchlight parades “against the un-German spirit” and called for Nazi officials, university faculty and chaplains, and student leaders to address the participants and spectators. Then, singing songs and taking “fire oaths” as band music played, in large open-air bonfires, the students burned thousands of “un-German books,” taken in raids on public and university libraries, private collections, and bookstores. The events also received widespread media attention – not only newspaper coverage, but also “live” radio broadcasts of the songs and speeches.

Four days earlier on May 6th.  Nazi Youth of the Deutsche Studentenschaft made an organized attack on the Institute of Sex Research, raiding its library in particular. The works of Magnus Hirschfeld, the Jewish doctor and sexual reformer were hardly in line with Aryan ideas about the nation’s sex life: his model of »intermediate sexual stages« allowed room for homosexuality as well as for hermaphrodites or transvestites. He welcomed racial mixing as an enrichment of the diversity of human life.  The Nazi reaction was unequivocal: We will not have our people demoralized, so burn, Magnus Hirschfeld!

The seemingly “spontaneous” demonstrations on May 10th. in Berlin were actually carefully orchestrated by Nazi leader Josef Goebbels, the Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, as part of the Nazi policy of Gleichschaltung (“synchronization”), which sought to align all elements of German society, polity, and culture with Nazi ideology by purging them of Jews and those considered “politically suspect” and by defining their work as “degenerate.”

40,000 people gathered in the square at the State Opera to hear Joseph Goebbels deliver a fiery address: “No to decadence and moral corruption!” Goebbels enjoined the crowd. “Yes to decency and morality in family and state! I consign to the flames the writings of Heinrich Mann, Ernst Gläser, Erich Kästner.”

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. And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past. This is a strong, great and symbolic deed – a deed which should document the following for the world to know – Here the intellectual foundation of the November Republic is sinking to the ground, but from this wreckage the phoenix of a new spirit will triumphantly rise.— Joseph Goebbels, Speech to the students in Berlin

Three days later on May 13, 1933 famed gay writer Christopher Isherwood wrote:  

“It is a quarter past midnight and I have just finished packing. In eight hours I am going to leave Berlin, perhaps for ever……. I have already made the journey several times in my head, composed funny postcards to all my friends. And now the day which seemed too good, too bad to be true, the day when I should leave Germany, has arrived, and I only know about the future that, however often and however variously I have imagined it to myself, the reality will be quite different.” 

Remember all that history does repeat itself and if we are not careful this can quite possibly happen again.   

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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