In early 2013, news broke that New Mexico high schools were banning Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. But this was not the only book on the list. Titles like Catcher in the Rye, Harry Potter, and a Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary - because it defines obscene words. In Arizona, bans have only recently been lifted on a number of Mexican-American books. In fact, many of the cities along the border have struggled with numerous book challenges and book bannings. That government-endorsed censorship is not yet an outdated issue seems obvious, which is why everyone should spend an hour or two at Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings, a traveling exhibition from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum now on display at the.Dallas Holocaust Museum.
We're entering an age where Holocaust survivors are few and far between. With almost six full decades between today and the horrors of World War II, even the ones who remain were children or adolescents when they were imprisoned in the Nazi camps. Before long, the history of the time period will be relegated to the sterility of history books, or museum displays pieced together by scholars, without first hand accounts of the daily monstrosities.
Started by a group of Holocaust survivors in 1984, the museum is one of 19 such institutions in the country. Tucked into an office building in the West End, just a block from the Sixth Floor Museum, it's "recognized for its compelling and creative programming, internationally recognized exhibits, and world-class speakers." And if we break through the PR schmaltz, it's a place in Dallas to learn something about history and how we build our future from it.
The current exhibition, which started at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum offers an incisive look at what led to the major book burning in Berlin on May 10, 1933. In the back corner of the first gallery, 71/2 minutes of footage from that day fills the room with the sound of German cheers as all the books considered "Un-German" are tossed into the fire.
These are facts most Americans are still taught in high school: Germans burned books. Germans bad. But this exhibition doesn't just explore the burnings, it follows through the American reaction: at the height of the Depression 300,000 people marched down the streets in unified protest. Yay, America good! Then, it continues into the embarrassing McCarthy years, during which time the government banned 30,000 books. America, bad?
But it's not about winners or losers, good guys or bad guys. It's a text-heavy exhibition about the the burning and banning of books. Like a work of literature, it sparks conversation and leaves you with more questions. It's history worth remembering.
Admission to the Holocaust Museum is $10 for adults. It's open 9:30 a.m. -5:30 p.m. Monday - Friday; 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday. Fortuitously, next week, September 21-27 is the American Library Association's Banned Book Week. More information at dallasholocaustmuseum.org.
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