A person uses a bunsen burner to burn a circle into the lawn in front of the Staatliche Antikensammlungen.

The artist Wolfram Kastner performing his art action So that grass doesn’t grow over history on Königsplatz, Munich, 2010 | © Wolfram Kastner

Commemorating the book burnings after 1945

It was a long time before the Nazi book burnings found a place in the public commemoration and remembrance culture of the Federal Republic of Germany. For decades, usually on round number anniversaries, the events surrounding May 10, 1933, were marked only by isolated media reports. Commemorative events or exhibitions on the subject remained a rare exception.

A shift in the culture of remembrance

This situation did not change until the second half of the 1970s as part of a general process of change in the culture of remembrance. In 1977, the journalist Jürgen Serke published a series of articles about the book burnings in the magazine Stern. As this was the first extensive examination of the book burnings ever to be published, it aroused great public interest, and the articles were later reissued as a book. A year later, the Association of German Writers and the German P.E.N. Center declared May 10 “Book Day” in commemoration of May 10, 1933. In 1979, with the support of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, the day of remembrance attracted nationwide interest.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the book burnings in 1983, a number of German cities staged commemorative events and exhibitions, and a number of new publications about the book burnings were issued. The following year, the first permanent commemorative plaque was put up in Göttingen. The first memorial was installed in Hamburg in 1985. Between then and 2000 a number of other cities followed suit, including Berlin (1995) and Cologne (1998).

Commemoration in Munich

In Munich the municipal library in the district of Sendling marked the fiftieth anniversary of the book burnings in 1983 with an exhibition of 125 books from the Library of Burned Books owned by the collector Georg P. Salzmann. Although the exhibition was the first of its kind, it received little attention. On the next round anniversary, in 1993, the Institute of German Philology at Ludwig Maximilian University presented an exhibition entitled 60 Years after the Book Burnings, including an accompanying book.

Two years after that, the artist Wolfram P. Kastner burned a circle into the lawn on Königsplatz on the site of the 1933 book burnings. Kastner’s commemorative action was initially rejected and he only received approval after a long struggle with the responsible city authorities, on condition that the circle was temporary. His idea of preserving this charred circle and having an information board put up next to it as a permanent memorial so as “not to allow grass to grow over the matter,” was rejected by the Munich city administration. The information board was removed the following February and grass was allowed to grow over the circle. In the years that followed, Kastner initially was refused permission to repeat his art action. Only in 2004 was he allowed to perform it again. Since then he has repeated it several times. He and a number of committed Munich citizens also established an annual reading under the title Munich Reads – from Burned Books. In the meantime this has become an established event that takes place every May 10 on Königsplatz with the participation of many institutions and persons from civil society.

Books are displayed behind glass on the shelves.

Part of the Library of Burned Books owned by the collector Georg Salzmann can be seen in the Learning Center of the Munich Documentation Center. | © NS-Dokumentationszentrum München, photo: Connolly Weber Photography

The memorial on Königsplatz

On the initiative of a motion proposed in 2013 the Munich City Council decided in 2016 to have a permanent memorial to the book burnings installed on Königsplatz and announced a competition for the design. The winning entry, The Black List / Die Schwarze Liste, by the Berlin-based artist Arnold Dreyblatt was chosen by the jury in 2018. The memorial was completed in 2021.

A round plate has been set in the ground ion which the titles of the burned books can be read in a spiral.

The artwork The Blacklist / Die Schwarze Liste by artist Arnold Dreyblatt on Königsplatz Munich | © NS-Dokumentationszentrum München, photo: Connolly Weber Photography

More on the book burnings of 1933

The book burnings in Germany and Munich

Between March and October 1933, Nazis all over Germany burned books and writings that they considered “un-German.” Munich’s Königsplatz was just one of the places where such burnings took place.

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The Blacklist / Die Schwarze Liste

The Blacklist / Die Schwarze Liste by the artist Arnold Dreyblatt commemorates the 1933 book burnings on Munich’s Königsplatz.

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