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Nazi book burning exhibit a ‘tremendous teaching opportunity’

Concordia College German professor Jonathan Clark looks over the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s traveling exhibition, “Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings”€on July 8 at Bonanzaville in West Fargo. David Samson

Panel after panel of Nazi German history, from book burnings to the Holocaust’s slaughter of 6 million Jews, is on display at West Fargo’s Bonanzaville.

“Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings” is a traveling exhibit created by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

It documents steps taken by the Nazis to suppress freedom of expression and the strong response to the book burnings that occurred in the United States during World War II.

Brenda Warren, vice president of the Bonanzaville board of directors, said she remembers studying the book burnings and prosecution of Jews in high school history classes in Ada, Minn.

The exhibit dates back 80 years – six years prior to the war, when German students burned thousands of books, targeting authors ranging from Helen Keller and Ernest Hemingway to Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud.

Their actions underscored an earlier warning from 19th-century German-Jewish writer Heinrich Heine: “Where one burns books, one soon burns people.”

The Nazi book burnings provoked reaction from writers, artists, scholars, journalists, librarians, labor unions, clergy, political figures and others.

The American Jewish Congress organized massive street demonstrations to protest Nazi persecution of Jews.

“This exhibit does a remarkable job to remind us of what happens when our rights to express ideas are suppressed,” said Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

This marks the first time that the exhibit has been displayed in the Midwest.

“It’s a tremendous teaching opportunity,” said Hunegs.

“It’s attractive, easy to read, well-written with fascinating pieces of history,” he said.

“It’s thought-provoking,” said Sandra Hannahs, director of the West Fargo Public Library. “It’s something that really expresses the importance of freedom of speech and the freedom to share and express viewpoints whether you believe them or not.”

Librarians tend to view the freedom to share information as the foundation of democracy, Hannahs said.

“It’s a great exhibit,” said Kathleen Toft, secretary of the Bonanzaville board of directors.

“We were afraid that we weren’t going to be able to have this because of lack of funding,” she said.

Several individuals contributed the money needed to bring the display to West Fargo, she said.

Toft said she is honored to be able to show the exhibit at Bonanzaville.

If you go

What: “Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings”

When: Bonanzaville, 1351 W. Main, West Fargo

Where: The exhibit is located in the Lucien C. Barnes Building – Rotating Exhibition Gallery through Aug. 17.

Info: Admission to the museum and exhibition is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors (55 plus) and military, $6 for ages 4-14. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.