Observance of Nazi Book Burning, 1943

Students listen to the speaker at the observance of the 1933 Nazi Book Burning on the steps of Wilson Library, 1943
Students listen to the speaker at the observance of the 1933 Nazi Book Burning on the steps of Wilson Library, 1943. (UNC Image Collection, P0004)

The steps of Wilson Library are a prime spot for UNC students to socialize, eat lunch, and catch up on reading. But on May 10, 1943, a small crowd gathered there with a far different purpose.  At ten-thirty in the morning, a bugler opened a “special ceremony to mark [the] German ‘War on Culture’”—as described by the Daily Tar Heel.  This event observed the tenth anniversary of the Nazi book burnings.  On that date in 1933, the German Student Union had burned over 25,000 books they deemed “un-German” in demonstrations across Germany.  Books considered “un-German” included works by Americans such as Mark Twain and Walt Whitman.  Other burned books were written by Jews or contained material deemed contrary to the German spirit.  Americans were horrified by this censorship, and remained so a decade later.

Daily Tar Heel, 9 May 1943.
Daily Tar Heel, 9 May 1943.

By 1943, the UNC community was deeply involved in the war effort. Male students participated in military drills as part of the Carolina Volunteer Training Corps.  In the lobby of Wilson Library, the “War Information Center” collected and disseminated information about the war.  The College for War Training taught courses designed to prepare students “for maximum fulfillment of their war job potentialities.” Students even wore red, white, and blue clothing, as noted in a fashion column from the Daily Tar Heel

Like students’ sartorial choices, the dramatization of the 1933 book burning was a symbolic gesture of patriotism. It was just one of many such ceremonies inspired by the Council on Books in Wartime, an organization that championed the use of books as “weapons in the war of ideas.”  The Library of Congress and the New York Public Library also held events to recall the Nazi book burning.

Exhibit of burned books in Wilson Library, 1943
Exhibit of burned books in Wilson Library, 1943. (UNC Image Collection, P0004)

At the UNC ceremony, Professor of English W.A. Olsen read selections from Stephen Vincent Benet’s radio play, “They Burned the Books.” Written in 1942, Benet’s play condemned Nazi censorship and celebrated American freedom.  Wilson Library also presented an exhibit featuring books burned by the Nazis.  John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle and Storm Over the Land by Carl Sandburg were among the books on display.  Underneath a highly stylized depiction of Hitler, the exhibit tagline explains that “THESE ARE THE BOOKS THAT HITLER HATES BECAUSE THEY ARE OUR WEAPONS.”

Wilson is Open Late for Studying!

During exams study spaces in Wilson Library will remain open until 9 PM.

One sleeping, one studying. From the Design Services Department Records, box 6, Collection #40324).
One sleeping, one studying. From the Design Services Department Records, box 6, Collection #40324).

We’ll be open late Thursday and Friday, December 5th and 6th; and again Sunday, December 8th through Wednesday, December 11th. If you are looking for a peaceful and inspiring place to study this exam season, please stop by to see us!



Happy Birthday Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower!

Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower

While many UNC students and staff will be spending the 26th at home or with relatives, recovering from a two-day bender of turkey dinner and leftovers, the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower will be turning a ripe 80.

Morehead (right) and Patterson.

Dedicated and first rung on Thanksgiving Day, 1931, the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower is named for its donors John Motley Morehead, Class of 1891, and Rufus Lenoir Patterson II, founder of the American Machine and Foundry Company (whose “AMF” logo you’d recognize if you’ve ever been bowling).

Some say that Morehead originally wanted to donate a library, but was beaten to it by Louis Wilson, whose Wilson Library (for which he raised the capital) houses the University Archives along with UNC’s other special collections. But according to Jack Hillard, Morehead had been trying to donate a bell tower for years and “offered to pay for a bell tower on top of the library, but University Librarian Louis Round Wilson had already decided that ‘his’ building would be domed.”

Regardless, the rumor has it that Morehead got his revenge on Wilson by building the bell tower such that, from a certain vantage on Polk Place, the tower’s belfry serves as a dunce cap for Wilson or at least looks like Morehead got his bell tower on top of Wilson’s library after all.

Photograph of Wilson Library taken from South Building, mid-1930s.