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Exhibit ignites knowledge of suppression of ideas

Being responsible for 300,000 books in the Foley Center Library, when information on the “Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and Nazi Book Burnings” exhibition crossed Eileen Bell-Garrison’s desk, it caught her eye and hit her at a “gut” level.

The traveling exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will be on display from March 10 to May 5 at the Foley Center Library at Gonzaga University.

GU exhibits 'Fires of Hate'
Eileen Bell-Garrison

Hosting the exhibit and educational events is a means to inform teachers, students and others in the community about the censorship of ideas related to Adolph Hitler’s rise to power and others who destroy books to stop ideas.

“Hitler’s rise was rooted in changing the thinking of the time by burning books, eliminating a source of information and knowledge,” said Eileen, dean of library services.

“The German nation was emerging from the Weimar Republic and a time of high inflation, economic depression and political turmoil,” she said.  “To bring a revolution, Hitler knew he needed to re-create and ‘cleanse’ the German spirit, so he started at the universities.”

Eileen did not realize until she began working on the exhibit how he targeted universities, bringing educated people on board to control dissent and spread hate. 

When she decided to bring the exhibit, Eileen immediately called Jerri Shepard, director of Gonzaga’s Institute for Action Against Hate, as a likely partner.  In 2000, the institute brought an exhibit on Ann Frank that drew area teachers and students to learn about what hate does.

Hitler initially appealed to educators, but the movement soon became anti-intellectual, anti-foreigner and anti-Jewish.

There have been book burnings throughout history, beginning nearly 2,000 years ago when libraries in Alexandria were trashed and burned.

The exhibit will include a mock bonfire using book pages with singed edges to stir a reaction in those coming to the exhibition.

On Jan. 30, 1933, torchlight parades heralded the beginning of the Nazi Revolution, and within months flames had destroyed the Weimar Constitution. 

Book burnings began on May 10, 1933, and continued throughout the Third Reich, Eileen said.

German students and professors sympathetic to Nazis raided libraries, bookstores and museums.  Students passed books along human chains to feed bonfires in the “Action Against the Un-German Spirit” targeting works of Sinclair Lewis, Karl Marx, Ernest Hemingway and others.

The exhibition, which was developed by Stephen Goodell, director of exhibitions at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, includes displays of period artifacts, documents and news coverage, along with film, video and newsreel footage.

It examines how in post-World-War-II years the Nazi book burnings affected American life, politics, literature and popular culture.

The exhibit also focuses on how the book-burnings became a symbol during World War II for America’s battle against Nazism and concludes by examining their continued impact on U.S. public discourse.

Americans reacted with revulsion to the suppression of freedom of expression, both immediately and in the following years, she said.

 Eileen, who has been at Gonzaga University for 25 years, six as dean, said censorship through burning books is a tool of hate and fear.

“To win over educators is powerful.  Young people in the United States are also vulnerable.  At Gonzaga our mission is to promote respect, tolerance and diversity, she said.  “This exhibit is an example of the power of education.

“Book burnings happen all the time.  Every time there is a new edition of Harry Potter, some fundamentalists who associate the wizards in it with Satan burn some of the Harry Potter books,” Eileen observed.

On Jan. 27, 2007, a Neo-Nazi Aryan group in Minneapolis burned copies of the Talmud, Q’uran and other books they consider anti-American.

“Even in this internet age of electronic media, the idea of burning books still connotes destroying ideas,” she said.

“Media rarely report book burnings, but they still happen in the United States,” said Eileen, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 1975 at Wittenberg University in Ohio, a master’s degree in library science at the University of Kentucky in 1980 and a doctoral degree in leadership studies at Gonzaga University.

“At Gonzaga, we believe in the Jesuit idea of formation of the whole person.  We require students to take classes in philosophy, religion and English with an emphasis on values,” she said.

A member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, she commented:  “God gave us minds to use.  We teach students to think.  Hitler taught students not to think, but to act blindly to promote an ideology.

“At Gonzaga, we want students to integrate their minds and their faith,” she said.

“I believe books are here to stay, because there’s something about the tactile experience of holding a book and turning pages that makes books an art form.  Electronic media are more appropriate for short periodical articles.  I find it hard to read anything of length on a computer,” Eileen said.

Gonzaga students will be involved in serving as docents, or exhibit guides, taking people through the exhibition. 

There have also been some sessions scheduled to train teachers to bring their classes through the exhibit.

The exhibit will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mondays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays, and from noon to 4 p.m., Saturdays, from March 10 to May 5 in the Special Collections Reading Room at Foley Center Library.  It will be closed April 6 to 9 for Easter.  

For information, call 323-6535 or visit Fires of Hate Exhibit