Submitted July 14, 2021
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak in front of our local county commissioners about their efforts to censor a display of books in the James V. Brown Library. The efforts that lead to this moment surrounded a particular set of books that represented themes of Pride Month. These books were simple stories that deal with friendships, families, and individualism.
Two of the commissioners, Scott Metzger and Tony Mussare paid a visit to the library to investigate what they said was a complaint by some constituents about the display and they wanted to make a request with the director to have the books removed.
Prior to this visit, Metzger posted a message on social media that he thought the books should be removed from the display and placed back on the shelves. He also went on to espouse his rather misinformed opinions about what people should or should not be allowed to read.
When word began to spread about the visit to the library by the two commissioners, a friend of mine contacted me to see what sort of challenges they may be facing. The first thing I said is that your director will have a plan of action for this. Censorship efforts like this happen all too often around the country and the library world is prepared. But with that, I immediately reached out to friends in organizations like the Library of Congress, American Library Association, The American Civil Liberties Union, EveryLibrary.Org, Banned Books Week, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund--all of whom are on constant watch for these moments.
The responses came from those offices within the hour: “What do you need? What resources do you have? How can we help?” Every one of these organizations were on standby.
Not surprisingly, Barbara McGary, Director of the library along with her staff and the board of directors calmly stood firm in defense of the idea that a library represents everyone in the community. And the commissioners backed down from their requests to have the books removed.
So how does this tie in with the rise of Hitler?
At this moment I am researching and editing a graphic novel about the holocaust and one of the (many) elements that stands out in the years prior to Hitler taking power is how much of a role censorship, along with propaganda, played a critical role in the rise of the Nazi party.
They burned hundreds of thousands of books--any book that did not reflect the Nationalist ideals of the Nazi Party and the Third Reich. They burned books of history, poetry, science…
They also used simple yet powerful words to belittle and demean anyone who did not fit their ideals of what a true German was. These words fed rumors which led to hysteria: Jews are not worthy, homosexuals are not worthy, mentally disabled are not worthy, gypsies are not worthy. In the eyes of the Nazis, this meant these people were not worthy of food, clothing, homes…they were not really even humans, they were all seen as a drain on the nation’s resources. They were disposable.
The words progressed: pogrom, relocation, labor camp, death camp, extermination. The words led to the creation of an industrial extermination process that killed over six million people.
I am not writing this to convince those two commissioners that censorship can lead to horrible things. They don’t realize they are already part of the problem that allows for genocide to become possible.
I am writing this as a call to you, your children, your friends, and anyone who understands that these tiny forms of censorship can and do lead to horrible events in societies around the world.
Any time a book is removed from the library or classroom because it goes against the opinions of an elected official or any nonelected administrator or a parent who declares the book offends their sensibilities, we all need to stand up and defend that book.
Even if it is just one book.
The extermination of millions of Jews, gays, disabled, and ‘other’ people happened only a generation ago. The words that made Hitler possible started two decades prior to that.
When I spoke in front of the commissioners that day, I looked directly at Metzger and Mussare and I pointed out that their words can and do cause harm. Their words make it ok for people to get hurt, beaten, or even killed. They enable hatred in people who simply cannot accept any one who is different.
Those words are no different than the ones that led to the industrial extermination of over six million human beings. If you visit the library today, you can find incredible stories about the Holocaust, and you will see how devastating those words can be.
We need to make sure this never happens again, and the fight will always start with someone wanting a book removed from the library.
The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed in this letter to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of NorthcentralPa.com.