Broward News

Book-Burning Exhibit in West Palm Beach; Enviro Film Fest in Lake Worth

It's the blahs: postelection, in the limbo between the holidays. The nation's not in totally awful shape, no rioting in the streets (though some think that would be an improvement). We're enduring the social equivalent of what Freud described as the goal of psychotherapy: normal unhappiness.

Dismal as the tinsel may be, Palm Beach offers a couple of events that offer cheer -- if thoughtful concern is your cup of tea.

"Banned and Burned" runs another month at the West Palm Beach Public Library, an exhibit and program of events on the topic of censorship. The core exhibit, "Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings," is a grabber, startling and varied, with much provocative detail.


Part one of the exhibit -- a series of folding walls running the length of the east end of the library's fourth floor -- concerns the book burnings themselves, illustrating the dark history with large-scale photographs, text, and graphics. The progression of Nazi repression and censorship is described; likewise their targets: German language authors like Brecht, Marx, and Freud; Americans like Helen Keller, Hemingway, and Jack London.

It's striking how early in the regime the burnings began -- it was 1933, almost as soon as Hitler assumed power -- and how elaborately they were planned. Formal invitations were issued (a reproduction is displayed) with a very Teutonic attention to detail: 11 p.m. torchlight parade, welcoming speech by student leader, burning of "nation-corrupting" books, group sing-along... 

(Students played a major role in the burnings, reciting "fire oaths" as the flames rose, listing the crimes of the authors and the "Aryan" virtues their work subverted.)

A section on the American response to the burnings is a revelation. While the U.S. government could do little, popular revulsion was enormous and took the form of massive street demonstrations denouncing the Nazi fires. Thousands of ordinary citizens marched in protest in virtually every major American city. In New York, 300,000 marched the length of Manhattan from Midtown to the Battery. 

On the downside, it is difficult to imagine a similar outcry against overseas intellectual repression today. Where were the rallies over the Taliban's destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan? Over the fatwa against Salman Rushdie? Over official homophobia in Uganda? (Not that we don't have our own problems here at home.)

Section three of the exhibit, "America at War," deals with counterpropaganda. It raises questions about the tricky business of fighting fire with fire, though it's hard to equate FDR's "Four Freedoms" with Hitler's creed of racial purity (whatever that's supposed to mean). What a different world it was when patriotism meant sending books to the troops.

"Fighting the Fires" ends with a section about the enduring symbolism of the Nazi bonfires, how it plays out in popular culture, and how it continues to be mimicked by homegrown fundamentalists.

The book-burning exhibit came to the West Palm Beach Library from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which organized the show as a traveling event. But the library has done a good deal more, organizing a series of satellite activities, including music, theater, film, and guest speakers. Full program here:

We can't offer you as much detail on the Earth First! Film Festival in Lake Worth (where the self-described radical environmentalists from the long-running Earth First! journal have -- through some strange but also eminently logical course of events -- put down roots).

Suffice it to say that for three days starting today, a series of hard-to-find, rarely screened documentaries will be shown that cover topics local (the 2003 FTAA protests in Miami), foreign (Chevron's rampage in the Amazon), historical (the Luddites), present-day (the nefarious Koch brothers), tragic (FBI frame-ups), and comic (the Yes Men).

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes fatal bite -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact [email protected]

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