Johann Koehle

This photo is usually divorced from its specific content. It is the most famous image of Nazi book burning. Most people assume the specific books don’t matter. The horror is at the notion of destroying books, any books, which I can certainly understand. But let’s talk about what was in them anyway.

This image shows Nazi-aligned vigilantes (not, incidentally, government agents) destroying the library of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science. Hirschfeld was the founder of modern transgender theory, and it is his displaced students who founded transgender advocacy in the US. Destroying this library destroyed the first central hub of transgender advocacy in the world. This loss is not an inconvenience. Parts of that library can never be replaced.

In the 1910s Earl Lind read one of the books from that library and wrote for a feminist magazine that mothers ought to raise their trans children according to their endorsed gender (as Lind said, their “mental sex”). One hundred years ago there was a movement to normalize trans people. It was based on scientific study and the assertion that a just society should be based on logical evidence, and logical evidence showed that gender variance was perfectly natural and perfectly healthy. That movement is what was displaced when Nazis stormed the library and burned all the books they found.

We recovered from the loss of Hirschfeld’s collection, eventually. We are once again at a place where people write to feminist journals extolling parents (no longer mothers!) to raise their trans children according to the genders of their hearts. But suppressing trans existence is so visible at the heart of the party that just came to power in this country. We’ll see what happens next.