Where Students Burned 20,000 Books Banned by the Nazis
by Ishmael von Heidrick-Barnes
Hands frozen together
at midnight in Bebelplatz, Berlin
a window opens
sun is punctuating blind pages
thumbing through melting sheets of glass
seeing the empty shelves of ourselves
70 years after the ashes of Auschwitz have turned into leaves
the firestorm of Dresden
It is still midnight
in Bebelplatz, Berlin
Author’s Note: This poem is about one of my favorite memorials in the city. It is the memorial to the burning of the books. In May, 1934, students burned books banned by the Nazi regime in Bebelplatz, a city square in front of the library.
As you wander across the cobblestones of Babelplatz, it is surprising to find a window in the middle of the square. If you peer down inside the window you see empty white shelves– enough to store 20,000 books. This is the estimated number of books that were burned in the square on a May night in 1934.
You can’t look into the glass without seeing yourself. It’s as if the artist incorporates us as viewers into the memorial, awakening our responsibility to not allow such horrible things to happen again.
I love the modern city of Berlin because it was rebuilt with what I refer to as “the architecture of atonement.” Unlike many cities in the States that have monuments to the glory of war, Berlin is filled with reminders of the consequences of war.