Heinrich Heine On Burning Books

As humans, I’ve come to know we are wired to believe what we see, what hear and were taught. It makes sense; if we are born into a society, with particular societal norms, those norms inherently become our norms, and without choice we fall into the boundaries of what government and society says is acceptable at the time. The article,” Connecting the Holocaust to book burning” by Austin Cline as a response to Heinrich Heine’s theory on the act of burning books provides an interesting connection between the burning of books and the burning of people as an act rooted in the same origins.

It’s quite intriguing how Heienrich Heine, an author I might add, was able to predict the acts of the Holocaust decades before they occurred. This act alone is what the self-righteous fear most, an intelligence far beyond their own, a threat to say the very least. For reasons like this the government was able to persuade the people, and in turn, burning books became the norm.

We can see this exact same thinking in Fahrenheit 451. Time allowed for outrageous government policies to become the norm, and when things become the norm people don’t often take time to realize the flaws within societal norms.

But Cline wants us to think about this – If can allow the burning of books to become the norm, why do people find it so outrageous that at some point in time burning people was the norm? I believe that burning books is much more than simply burning something materialistic; I see it as burning the soul, burning the thoughts and more than anything burning the rights of the individual. But although burning these books allows for all this, it doesn’t eliminate the message entirely, but perhaps just slows the growth.

We may look at this as hope, but as seen in the horrid acts of the holocaust, the Nazi’s may have been inherently sinister, but did not lack intelligence of any sort. Nazi Germany also understood that burning books would not fully burn the message, the only way to burn the message was to burn the origin.

This is where the ideas of burning the Jews, communists, socialists and other radical minorities came from. The acceptance of burning books opened the door for the acceptance of burning people.

Cline does an outstanding job of connecting the two. Cline writes, “Burning books and burning people are connected because both stem from a desire to eliminate ideas that are a threat to the some group or ideology which is in power.” Understanding the treat of what brilliant thoughts, whether they be in the mind or in the books, threaten idealistic groups in power. Perhaps acts like burning people, and acts like burning books go far beyond our capacity to understand the flaw in the human wiring. All this proves one thing, there is something inherently sinister, dark and disturbing about burning books since not only are we burning the pages, we are burning the brain too.

By: Caroline McDonald

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3 thoughts on “Heinrich Heine On Burning Books

  1. I really like how you said “Not only are we burning the pages, we are burning the brain too.” This clearly illustrated the link between book burning and the burning of people Austin Cline is exploring in his article.
    -Hannah Brennan

  2. You suggested that burning books was the equivalent of “Burning the rights of the individual.” When you use this phrase do you mean their right to thought, escape or something else? It is a very interesting point that we have a right to literature. I definitely agree with it as books provide us with a solid foundation to base our own personal thoughts on. Without them, thought and the birth of ideas would be much more difficult and these ideas could not be shared with the public.
    -Isobel

  3. Your point “when things become the norm people don’t often take time to realize the flaws within societal norms.” blew me away! So deep and insightful; makes you really think about how warped our society is now and how it relates to the book.
    – Hannah DeBourke

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