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1933: The Nazi State Begins
 pg. 53 
    During the night of May 10, 1933--100 days after Adolf Hitler legally became chancellor of Germany--more than 20,000 books burned in the Opernplatz (Opera House Square) opposite the Humboldt University in Berlin. This event was not an isolated incident during that night. In some 30 German university towns, brown-shirted Nazi students along with many of their professors purged "un-German" writings from libraries and shops and set them ablaze. Enthusiastic crowds witnessed the destruction, which was launched with torchlight parades and accented by speeches that proclaimed the death of "Jewish intellectualism" and the purification of German culture. Thus, writings by such Jewish intellectuals as Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud fueled the huge bonfires. Also engulfed in flames was the work of Heinrich Heine, a German poet of Jewish origin.

A century earlier Heine had stated, "Where books are burned, in the end people will be burned." Heine could scarcely have imagined how true his statement would become, specifically for the European Jews who found themselves under Nazi domination during the Third Reich. German Jews were harassed, beaten, arrested and imprisoned. Their businesses were boycotted, and Jewish lives were proscribed by a long list of new anti-Jewish laws.

Though antisemitism in Germany had simmered for centuries, it had reached a boiling point by 1933. The reasons were largely economical. In the early '30s Germany was suffering the effects of a severe worldwide economic depression. It put millions out of work, increased social unrest, and undermined confidence in the post-World War I German government, which was known as the Weimar Republic. These discouraging conditions were made even worse by the bitterness many Germans felt over Germany's defeat in World War I. They wanted decisive leadership and national rebirth, yet political instability left both of those aims in doubt.

Although the National Socialists (Nazis) could never win an absolute majority in any freely contested national election, by 1932 they were the largest political party in Germany. Fearing continued chaos and unable to see a better solution, Germany President Paul von Hindenburg, age 85, reluctantly made a fateful decision on January 29. He used his constitutional authority to appoint Hitler as the head of a coalition government. Hitler took the chancellor's oath on January 30, and that night Nazis celebrated the victory with spirited torchlight parades in Berlin

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Hitler addresses a mass rally of SA faithful at Dortmund, Germany, in July 1933.
Photo: AKG 8-1933-1-22-E1

1933: The Nazi State Begins
 pg. 53 
The Holocaust Chronicle
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