The texts that Adolf Hitler chose to keep in his library tell us much about the man and his philosophy. They also hold a message for the 21st century. The Books He Didn’t Burn is in competition at the Raindance Film Festival.
Adolf Hitler is perhaps more famous for overseeing the burning of books in Germany than for preserving them and yet after his demise, allied troops found thousands of books distributed around libraries in various of his residences.
This documentary, The Books He Didn’t Burn (Die Bücher, die Hitler nicht verbrannte), takes a look at just some of the titles recovered – 1,300 of which are currently housed in the United States’ Library of Congress – in the company of historians and scholars who have studied the books over time.
Filmmakers Jascha Hannover and Claus Bredenbrock have invited experts from a range of backgrounds and nations to talk to camera about what the titles tell us about Hitler’s world view. Their thoughts are woven together with an occasionally ponderous voice over by Jeremy Irons, just in case gravitas was lacking (it isn’t), and interspersed with archival footage from the time when Hitler was seeking and then using his power.
With some of the books annotated by Hitler himself, the historians are able to describe a man’s philosophical journey from youthful post-Great War fantasist to becoming the architect of mass murder. It will not be too much of a shock to learn that what might be recognised today as Nazi philosophy and doctrine has been around for a lot longer than the 20thcentury, and also that the eugenicist and anti-Semitic literature that he chose to read not only shaped, but also reinforced, his viewpoint.
The documentary also takes time to explore how the same texts and ideas continue to influence right-wing extremism in the 21st century. Although that comes as no surprise, it’s always chilling (and necessary) to be reminded of how these views – far from being eradicated in the middle of the last century – have a foothold in current populist political views.
The Books He Didn’t Burn is a co-production between German television broadcaster ZDF and European culture television channel Arte and does have the feel of a television documentary production. However, every now and then, some such documentaries deserve a wider audience. I’d say anything which sends a timely reminder about re-treading extremist pathways earns its chance on a cinema screen.