the written word

“What is more frightening a totalitarian regime’s destruction of
knowledge or its hankering for it?”

Anders Rydell


(sunset over the Gulf, Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2017)

I’ve come across a most intriguing story.
It is a tale of war, ideologies, plundering, destroying, recovering…
with an eventual attempt to reunite as it were.
And very much a true story.

It is a tale as told in Andres Rydell’s book The Book Thieves
The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries And the Race to Return A literary Inheritance

Rydell offers in the forward the idea that “In our time, the book has remained
a symbolic value that is almost spiritual.
Discarding books is still considered sacrilegious.
The burning of books is one of the strongest symbolic actions there is,
correlating with cultural destruction.
While mainly identified with the Nazi book pyres of 1933,
the symbolic destruction of literature is as old as the book itself.

The strong relationship between humans and books relates to the role of the written word in the dissemination of knowledge, feeling, and experience over
thousands of years.
Gradually the written word replaced the oral tradition. We could preserve more
and look further back in time.
We could satisfy our never quite satisfied hunger for more.
…Our simultaneously emotional and spiritual relationship to the book is
about how the book “speaks to us.”
It is a medium connection us to other people both living and dead.

A year before my godfather died, he had me come over in order to help him sort through
his belongings.
He and his wife were soon to move to a much smaller place as the issue of
each ones health, both physical and cognitive, was rapidly failing,
and he was under the clock to purge a lifetime of work and living.

To me this aging man was more than a symbolic godfather.
He had been a priest for over 50 years so he was actually more spiritual father than anything else.

While I was sitting sprawled out on the floor of his study, sorting through files,
DVDs and a mountain of papers, he offered me any of the books that I could carry
from his myriad of covered shelves.

Here was once a widely renowned man in his profession.
A long sought after lecturer and author.
His collection of books was both wide and diverse.
Yet it was to a small copy of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol that drew my eye.
“Jules, if you want it, take it” he nonchalantly told me.
I opened the book and inside the cover was written in fine fountain pen lettering
the follwing inscription:
“To David B. Collins
From Aunt Emma
Dec 25th 1930”

“But,” I stammered…. only for him to reassure me, “take it.”

The book is an illustrated version of the Dickens classic with this particular
edition being published in 1927.
And it had obviously been a Christmas gift to a nephew of 8 from a loving aunt.

Once home, I thumbed through the book.
There was a card, what I first thought was a yellowed notecard, placed between pages
222 and 223, the point in the story when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come had taken Scrooge to the churchyard in order to see his own grave marker.

The card was however an altar card from the chapel of The University of the South,
Sewanee, TN—the school that Dean Collins had attended for seminary as well as where he
served as rector.

I imagine the card marked material once used in a sermon.

I share this little story with you because it is just one small fragmented
tale illustrating the importance of not just a story in a book but rather of the book itself… and of the line of people the little book has traversed—
It is really the story a continuum…the continuum from once a loving aunt to
her 8 year old little nephew…and later from aging old man to his equally aging
spiritual God daughter….

But the giving will not have stopped with me…that’s how it is with books.
It’s merely resting for a while before, at some point in the future,
it travels once again,
For we come to understand that books often have a life of their own…

And so what the world witnessed with the Nazis and their fervor to rid themselves
of a certain group of people, with their ultimate hope being to actually rid
the entire world of these people—it was not enough to merely take their belongings, especially their books, and to destroy them or hide them away.

Nor was it enough that they take these very people and burn them, hiding them away…
But the key rather for the Nazis was to take the very essence of these
‘loathsome people’—with that essence being these people’s actual written word.

And if the Nazis could erase their words, then these people would in turn,
cease to exist— or better yet in the minds of the Nazis, cease to have ever
existed at all…..as in a total wiping clean of the slate of the very existence.

Because as Rydell points out “whoever owns the word has the power to not only
interpret it, but also to write history.”

Rydell’s story is rich in history as he gives an in-depth look into how Germany, a highly educated and culturally rich people, came to find themselves being lead blindly by
a madman.

Rydell’s story is a convoluted tale of madness, death, destruction leading to one of
hope and reuniting…linking a past with a future.

For there is a great lesson in his story for us today–especially now.
A lesson it would behoove our society to heed.

And a lesson I will be sharing in the next day or so….

For the word of God is alive and active.
Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit,
joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

22 comments on “the written word

  1. Elihu says:

    Just beautiful. It may be less poignant, but I have two books that are rather old and I feel as though it’s a bit momentous when I share them with my kids. I have a 1963 copy of Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss. Inscribed in the front cover is “To [my mom’s name] from [next door neighbor’s name] with the date. That book was read to my brother and then passed on to me. I also have a copy of charlotte’s web with my brother’s name written in it, followed by my name. I plan to write each of my children’s names in it as well. There’s something sweet about sharing stories down through the generations. And of course, of even more import is sharing the scriptures down through the generations.

    Sorry for the ramble. Your post stirred some dormant thoughts!

  2. Lynda says:

    The written word is powerful. I also have some books from my childhood that my children and now my grandchildren have read. My children have books that my parents gave them and my mother wrote their names and dates in them as well. These are treasures for sure!
    Books are indeed sacred. I am in awe when I’m in a library surrounded by books which share the thoughts of so many people throughout the ages.

  3. atimetoshare.me says:

    Books, art, music, dance all expressions of who we are. When all these things pass away, we surely will too.

  4. RobbyeFaye says:

    Poignant and touching, Thanks for sharing.
    Books are such an integral part of a person’s life, I’d be lost without mine. I have read literally thousands, and am so thankful for the opportunities each one provided.
    Praying for your family as they make this huge adjustment.
    Blessings!

  5. SLIMJIM says:

    That’s very true that people have been burning books even before Crystal Night with the Nazis…they did managed to burn books and do things more creepier after that though. Good post Julie about the importance of the written word..and the Written Word.

  6. Citizen Tom says:

    It is more than just books. The book burnings were only the beginning. The Nazis, just as would any other tyrannical regime, would have eventually destroyed all trace and memory of its opposition. The drive to destroy the Jews was, of course, diabolical. but that is what totalitarian regimes become, instruments of the devil.

    Therefore, the Nazis sought in particular to exterminate the Jewish people and every aspect of their culture. Eventually, because they had no use for Christianity anyway, the Nazis would have destroyed all the Bibles and leveled any church which regarded the Bible as sacred.

    Jesus and apostles were hated Jews. The Bible was written by hated Jews. Therefore, all the art — the books, the statues, the paintings, the pictures, the movies and so forth — all that pointed back to Christianity and Judaism, would have been burned, smashed, and ground to powder.

    Tyranny is a thing of the ego, an absurdly immense pride. Anything that does not affirm the divinity of the Leader, that reminds anyone that he too is only a man has to be destroyed. So it is that that which is based upon the worship of idols, man-made gods, eventually eat themselves up. In the quest to preserve the lie, everything that does not affirm the lie must be destroyed. Yet God is the Creator, and everything tells us of Him. Thus, a tyrant must eventually seek the destruction of all that he wishes to rule.

    • Oh my gosh—I was just writing you on your post 🙂 such great minds!!!!

    • In the beginning Hitler had wanted to take out the Church as well—he began removing all religious symbols from the schools, etc—but he opted to wait, hoping to turn the Church of Germany to his side—using it as a pawn to help better control the people….which he did to some extent.
      But he had begun work on the Catholic Church early on—deciding he could remove it first as he did not see it as being truly German but rather controlled by Rome—thousands of priests, monks and nuns were sent to the death camps (think Edith Stein, Maximilian Kolbe) and eventually he turned his sights to Germany’s Church—those Lutheran’s who did not go along with the notion of a State run institution, such a Bonhoeffer, were removed and silenced.

      And this conversation leads directly to your posting today!!!
      Good stuff Tom!!!!

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