Harmful and Undesirable: Book Censorship in Nazi Germany (Oxford University Press), by Guenter Lewy
Oct. 4, 2016
“Given the centrality of a virulent anti-Semitism in Nazi ideology, it is nothing short of amazing that a total ban on Jewish books did not go into effect until April 1940,” writes Guenter Lewy. Harmful and Undesirable goes beyond the infamy of book burnings and examines how the regime’s censorship system operated. Lewy finds squabbling and overlapping jurisdictions vying for control of publishing, overzealous local Gestapo agents, insufficient staffing by agencies charged with monitoring the written word and arguments among German leaders. Prudish Nazis at first banned all publications on nudism, but Heinrich Himmler, evidently a nudist under his SS uniform, forced the censors to backtrack. While describing Nazi literary policies in detail, Harmful and Undesirable includes some small errors: Rudolf Steiner did not found Theosophy and Lewy’s point about a swastika on the dust jacket of a 1920s German novel is moot. U.S. editions of Voltaire published at that same time bore a swastika, an ancient symbol not yet corrupted by Nazism. Lewy is a political science professor, not a historian of ideas.