Sunday, June 11, 2006

Burning Books

I was in the first or second grade when I first started to learn to distrust the American government. That would have been 1955 or 56. Something like that. Maybe it was 1957.

We lived in Austin, Texas. My daddy was a 4th or 5th generation Texan, my mother was a German national who had come to the US in 1948 as a war bride. She spent the occupation years of 1945-1948 working for the US Army as a translator, which is where she met my daddy. He was a soldier in the occupation forces. They were both 21 years old in 1948.

One day my teacher referred to Hitler as a book burner. That was puzzling to me because just the year before my mother had inherited a lot of old furniture and oil paintings and books from an Aunt in Germany. The books were of course all written in German, and I wondered how they survived if Hitler had burned all the books.

So when I got home I asked my mother why Hitler hadn't burned those books.

She told me that the only books she'd ever seen burned in Germany were burned by the US Army. She said at the beginning of the occupation they came thru neighborhoods going house to house and seizing "Nazi paraphernalia". In some cases that meant anything written in German or any photographs that included images of military uniforms or flags. The US Army piled such stuff up in the street block by block and burned them. The reason those books she had didn't get burned was that they'd been moved to a barn in the country along with old furniture and art work to protect them from the bombing (She'd grown up in Mannheim, an industrial city not far from France that got a lot of bombing).

So I guess the lesson I was supposed to learn was that book burning is bad if done by a bad person, but it's not bad if it's done by a good person.

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