Lewy, Guenter. Harmful and Undesirable: Book Censorship in Nazi Germany. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. xii + 268 pages. Hardcover, $34.95.
The image of piles of burning books lighting the faces of Nazi functionaries and Hitler Youth standing at attention remains a powerful image of book censorship in the Third Reich, and offers a glimpse of the horrors to come. This scene was replayed in over seventy German cities in 1933; yet, the drama of these episodes obscured the varied and subtle policies that developed in practice during the years of Nazi domination. These neglected policies provide the material for political scientist Guenter Lewy's recent book, Harmful and Undesirable: Book Censorship in Nazi Germany. Unlike the book burnings that were realized through the initiative of politically charged students, official Nazi policy strived for more inconspicuous forms of censorship including prior restraint, mandatory membership in Nazi controlled organizations, generating psychological pressures to self-censor, and controlling book printing supplies. Using private letters and official bureaucratic correspondence, Lewy contributes to the literature on the Third Reich by offering this well-managed narrative of book censorship as an example of the Nazis' wider cultural policy.
Lewy divides his book into four parts, each with its own objectives. Part One deals with the emergence of censorship and looks at the Weimar Republic's policies as well as the book burning episodes. Part Two and Part Three constitute the bulk of the work. In Part Two, Lewy charts the growth of the bureaucracies that were involved in book censorship as well as the power struggles and back biting that occurred due to overlapping jurisdictions. Of particular importance was Joseph Goebbels, who personally retained the right to ban specific titles through his presidency of the German Chamber of Culture, which housed the Reich Chamber of Literature. This power created friction with a number of other agencies that were also involved in book policy, especially Alfred Rosenberg's Reich Office for the Promotion of German Literature, which worked to undermine Goebbels' authority.
Lewy interlaces specific examples of books and authors with detailed descriptions of bureaucratic structure and conflict, keeping the narrative engaging. The author also captures the distance between the policymakers and those who implemented the policies. These structural problems are picked up...