Czech artist’s plans to collect books likened to Nazi book burnings


BERLIN (JTA) — An artist’s plans to "recycle" 60,000 copies of a controversial book are too close to Nazi history for comfort, critics say.

"This is no ‘art action’ – it’s an embarrassment that must be prevented," Julius Schoeps, director of the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies in Potsdam, said in a statement Jan. 13.

Schoeps and others have likened the plan by Czech artist Martin Zet to the Nazi burnings of an estimated 25,000 books by Jewish and other authors in 1933.

At issue is Zet’s plan to assemble and "recycle" copies of Thilo Sarrazin’s 2010 best-selling book “Germany Does Away With Itself.” The doomsday book, in which Muslim immigrants were blamed for Germany’s social and economic woes, was roundly criticized as racist, and Sarrazin lost his position on the board of the German Central Bank.

An open call was issued Jan. 12 for owners of Sarrazin’s book to turn in their copies at galleries and museums across the country. The books are to be on display and then, according to the artist, "recycled for a good purpose" at the end of the festival, which runs from April 27 to July 1.

The action – dubbed “Germany Gets Rid of It” – is part of the Berlin Biennale, a citywide contemporary art forum organized by the KW Institute for Contemporary Art and funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation.

“The book woke up and fed the anti-immigrant and mainly anti-Turkish tendencies in this country,” Zet said in the official announcement. “I suggest using the book as an instrument enabling people to privately manifest their personal position.”

Though a pyre is not planned, Schoeps and other critics said the action is reminiscent of the infamous 1933 book burning overseen by Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.

The public destruction of any book must be prevented, said Moses Mendelssohn Center historian Werner Tress, who has researched the historical event.

"We have a situation in which I actually have to defend a book whose contents I deeply abhor,” Tress said in the joint statement with Schoeps.

Bernd Scherer, director of the House of World Cultures in Berlin, one of the book collection sites, said in a statement Jan. 12 that his institution wanted to counter the “racism that continues to exist in Germany and that we find in Thilo Sarrazin’s book,” but “not through this form of polarization.” He suggested the artist should clarify his intentions.

Sarrazin, 66, a former finance minister for the state of Berlin, also drew harsh criticism in 2010 from Jewish leaders for his pseudo-scientific comments about Jews, whom he said in an interview about his book were preferable as immigrants due to their supposed higher intelligence.

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