Exhibit shares book burning history of Nazi Germany

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People poured into the reading room at Anythink Wright Farms in Thornton Aug. 15 in anticipation of learning about a piece of history. By 7 p.m., men, women and children sat quietly as Walter Plywaski began his story of survival during the Holocaust.

It was 1939, and Plywaski was just 10 years old when he was placed in the ghetto in Lodz, Poland. That was just the beginning of years spent fighting disease, starvation, overcrowding and the loss of family members. His mother was killed in a gas chamber and his father was beaten to death. As the Boulder resident shared his story, he also shared his emotions about the inhumane treatment received by those in the ghetto and the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Dachau.

“To keep a happier life, we need to know life can be difficult, and compare those times to the happier times,” he said. “These horrible things were being done to human beings by human beings — inhumane things.”

Plywaski spoke about German police officers laughing as they beat a Jewish person, or the time when he nearly stumbled over the dead body of a friend in the streets of the ghetto. He said his survival in the ghetto and the concentration camps came from “being very lucky and very tough and, at times, even brutal.”

“To me, the ghetto was worse than the concentration camp because I still had friends and family in the ghetto, and I watched as mothers saw their children die,” he said.

In 1945, Plywaski and his brother Bill escaped the concentration camp after aerial assaults caused an electric shortage on an electrified barbed fence. The two boys were able to crawl through the fence. A short time later, Plywaski said, they were picked up by an American infantry patrol and became American mascots.

Now Plywaski shares his story at various schools and organizations. His presentation at Anythink Wright Farms was part of the opening reception for a new exhibit at the library, “Fighting the Fires of Hate: American and the Nazi Book Burnings.” The traveling exhibit is produced by the Unites States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., and is a comprehensive examination of the Nazi book burnings in 1933. The Nazis burned 25,000 volumes of books in cities throughout Germany as part of a symbolic act of censorship.

The exhibit features free-standing graphic panels with reproductions of photographs, newspapers, posters, documents and books, as well as audio-visual components with historic film footage.

“This exhibit is a reminder of how fragile our freedom is, and it takes people to have courage to protect those freedoms,” said Anythink director Pam Smith. “This is much more than an exhibit; it gets people to think about what is important in their lives.”

The exhibit will run until Sept. 28, and the library will host interactive programs focusing on censorship, including a panel discussion with a variety of people from different backgrounds and careers.

“Providing opportunities to understand our past is just one key role of libraries,” Smith said. “We hope our community will participate in this important conversation.”