One of the best ways to form a dictatorship is to suppress knowledge. That’s one reason that propaganda is so important. When the people only hear what the government wants them to, they tend to become compliant…or at least that’s the theory. When Adolf Hitler was elected to office, he was the people’s choice, but they had no idea just how evil he was and how long they would be stuck with him. With the end of democracy, Germany became a one-party dictatorship. The Nazis began a massive propaganda campaign to win the loyalty and cooperation of Germans. The Nazi Propaganda Ministry, directed by Dr Joseph Goebbels, took control of all forms of communication in Germany…newspapers, magazines, books, public meetings, and rallies, art, music, movies, and radio. Viewpoints in any way threatening to Nazi beliefs or to the regime were censored or eliminated from all media. The German people were isolated from the outside world, and while they did not like it, the government became their only source of information.
Germany was now led by a self-educated, high school drop-out named Adolf Hitler, who was by nature strongly anti-intellectual. For Hitler, the reawakening of the long-dormant Germanic spirit, with its racial and militaristic qualities, was far more important than any traditional notions of learning. Books and writings by such authors as Henri Barbusse, Franz Boas, John Dos Passos, Albert Einstein, Lion Feuchtwanger, Friedrich Förster, Sigmund Freud, John Galsworthy, André Gide, Ernst Glaeser, Maxim Gorki, Werner Hegemann, Ernest Hemingway, Erich Kästner, Helen Keller, Alfred Kerr, Jack London, Emil Ludwig, Heinrich Mann, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx, Hugo Preuss, Marcel Proust, Erich Maria Remarque, Walther Rathenau, Margaret Sanger, Arthur Schnitzler, Upton Sinclair, Kurt Tucholsky, Jakob Wassermann, H.G. Wells, Theodor Wolff, Emilé Zola, Arnold Zweig, and Stefan Zweig, were suddenly unGerman. Their books were pulled from libraries and schools. Then, on the night of May 10, 1933, an event unseen in Europe since the Middle Ages occurred as German students from universities once regarded as among the finest in the world, gathered in Berlin to burn books with unGerman ideas. It was the Nazi burning of knowledge. Students can be very impressionable, and easily lead, and these students played right into Hitler’s hand.
The youth-oriented Nazi movement had always attracted a sizable following among university students. Even back in the 1920s they thought Nazism was the wave of the future. They joined the National Socialist German Students’ League, put on swastika armbands and harassed anti-Nazi teachers. Many formerly reluctant professors were swept along by the outpouring of student enthusiasm that followed Hitler’s seizure of power. Most of the professors eagerly surrendered their intellectual honesty and took the required Nazi oath of allegiance. They also wanted to curry favor with Nazi Party officials in order to grab one of the academic vacancies resulting from the mass expulsion of Jewish professors and deans. The entire education system of a nation changed…almost overnight. As the German-Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, had declared, a hundred years before the advent of Hitler, “Wherever books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too.” And so it was in the end.