Free people read freely! Every year hundreds of books have been either removed or challenged in schools and libraries in the United States. The American Library Association (ALA), says there were at least 464 in 2012.
The librarian and freedom-loving American in me has always been concerned by this and so each year I join the book community et al celebrating Banned Books Week, September 21-21, 2014 - bringing attention to challenged books and the importance of the freedom to read. Librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types share in the support of this freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship. While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.
When I hear of books being banned I can’t help but think of the rampant censorship of the Nazis throughout Germany and the countries they occupied including Czechoslovakia, my late husband Charles Novacek’s homeland. Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Propaganda Ministry directed by Joseph Goebbels took control of all forms of communication: newspapers, magazines, books, public meetings, and rallies, art, music, movies, and radio. Viewpoints in any way threatening to Nazi beliefs or to the regime were censored or eliminated from all media.
Even before the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia (spring 1933) Nazi student organizations, professors, and librarians created lists of books they thought should not be read by Germans. Then one night the Nazis raided libraries and bookstores across Germany. They marched by torchlight in nighttime parades, sang chants, and threw books into huge bonfires. On that night more than 25,000 books were burned. Some were works of Jewish writers, including Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. Most of the books were by non-Jewish writers, including such famous Americans as Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and Sinclair Lewis, whose ideas the Nazis viewed as different from their own and therefore not to be read.
Also censored were books by Upton Sinclair, H. G. Wells and even the books of Helen Keller, who had inspite of her deafness and blindness had become a respected writer. When told of the of the book burnings, Keller responded: “Tyranny cannot defeat the power of ideas.” Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States protested the book burnings, a clear violation of freedom of speech, in public rallies across America.
Schools also played an important role in spreading Nazi ideas. Some books were removed from classrooms by censors and newly written textbooks were brought in to teach students the German language and blind obedience and devotion to the party and Adolf Hitler.
My husband Charles experienced Nazi censorship in his schools in the Nazi occupied protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in Czechoslovakia from 1939-1945. He poignantly talks about his experiences in his award-winning memoir, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, 1021 Press, 2012.
Please join me this week and year ‘round to protect our important freedom to read and share ideas freely Celebrate Banned Books Week and protect the Freedom to Read!