Herrmann was born in Alsleben. While still in school, he joined the Deutschvölkischer Jugendbund. He studied modern history at the University of Munich, receiving his doctorate in 1928. In 1929, he worked at the Volksbibliothek in Breslau and became involved in library policy in line with a Nazi outlook.
In 1931, he went to work at the Stettin municipal library, lasting only months in the position before he was let go in October. Also in 1931, he applied for admission into the Nazi Party, where he was aligned with the party's left wing under brothers Gregor and Otto Strasser. In 1933, at the age of 29, he headed the Zentralstelle für das deutsche Bibliothekswesen in Berlin. In April 1934, he became the library director in Königsberg, Prussia. In 1936, he became the political leader.
In April 1933, after the Nazis seized power, a committee met in Berlin to establish a "new order" for Berlin public libraries. Herrmann was a member of the committee. For several years, he had already been preparing lists of literature to weed out, which he brought to the new committee. Herrmann's first lists served to indicate works that libraries should refrain from lending. However, he also had lists of books to recommend, such as Hitler – ein deutsches Verhängnis by Ernst Niekisch and Adolf Hitler, Wilhelm der Dritte by Weigand von Miltenberg (pen name of Herbert Blank), but set little store with Hitler's Mein Kampf. As a result, shortly after the book burnings, the Nazi Party press treated him negatively.[note 1]
At the beginning of 1933, the German student organization, the Deutsche Studentenschaft (DSt) asked Herrmann to make his blacklist of "harmful and undesirable literature" available to them; it then became the foundation for the book burnings. Decades of research into the Nazi era has found neither the book burnings of May 10, 1933 nor the blacklist created by Herrmann to have been commissioned or directed by the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.
The book burnings were by and large organized by the DSt, albeit with support from the Reichsministerium. Likewise, Herrmann's blacklist, created on his own initiative, arose from his Nazi convictions. Not until later did Goebbels and his Ministry – after a long power struggle with Alfred Rosenberg – assume sole guidance of literature policy.
Blacklist and book burnings
The first "List of Books Worth Burning" appeared in the publication, Berliner Nachtausgabe on March 26, 1933. Preliminary and incomplete, it was soon replaced by a more thorough index. A month later, Herrmann began creating further lists of authors based on his blacklist, which he sent to the DSt for their "Action against the Un-German Spirit". Using these lists, student shock troops searched the libraries of universities and institutions and, beginning May 6, 1933, bookshops and lending libraries, removing the "harmful and undesirable literature". Public libraries were then pressured to "clean up" their own stocks; the books culled were to be handed over to the DSt for public book burnings on May 10, 1933.
Herrmann's blacklist was republished on May 16, 1933, in Börsenblatt, a weekly trade publication for German bookstores, as Prussia's first official list of banned books.
Among the German-speaking authors whose books student leaders burned that night were Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Bertolt Brecht, Max Brod, Otto Dix, Alfred Döblin, Albert Einstein, Friedrich Engels, Lion Feuchtwanger, Marieluise Fleißer, Leonhard Frank, Sigmund Freud, Iwan Goll, George Grosz, Jaroslav Hašek, Heinrich Heine, Ödön von Horvath, Heinrich Eduard Jacob, Franz Kafka, Georg Kaiser, Erich Kästner, Alfred Kerr, Egon Kisch, Siegfried Kracauer, Karl Kraus, Theodor Lessing, Alexander Lernet-Holenia, Karl Liebknecht, Georg Lukács, Rosa Luxemburg, Heinrich Mann, Klaus Mann, Ludwig Marcuse, Karl Marx, Robert Musil, Carl von Ossietzky, Erwin Piscator, Alfred Polgar, Erich Maria Remarque, Ludwig Renn, Joachim Ringelnatz, Joseph Roth, Nelly Sachs, Felix Salten, Anna Seghers, Arthur Schnitzler, Carl Sternheim, Bertha von Suttner, Ernst Toller, Kurt Tucholsky, Jakob Wassermann, Frank Wedekind, Franz Werfel, Grete Weiskopf, Arnold Zweig and Stefan Zweig.
Not only German-speaking authors were burned but also French authors like Victor Hugo, André Gide, Romain Rolland, Henri Barbusse, American writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, John Dos Passos, and Helen Keller as well as English authors Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley, Irish writer James Joyce and Soviet authors including Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Maxim Gorki, Isaac Babel, Vladimir Lenin, Vladimir Nabokov, Leo Tolstoy, Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Ilya Ehrenburg.
The burning of the books represents a culmination of the persecution of those authors whose verbal or written opinions were opposed to Nazi ideology. Many artists, writers and scientists were banned from working and publication. Their works could no longer be found in libraries or in the curricula of schools or universities. Some of them were driven to exile (like Walter Mehring and Arnold Zweig); others were deprived of their citizenship (for example Ernst Toller and Kurt Tucholsky) or forced into a self-imposed exile from society (e.g. Erich Kästner). For other writers the Nazi persecutions ended in death. Some of them died in concentration camps, due to the consequences of the conditions of imprisonment, or were executed (like Carl von Ossietzky, Erich Mühsam, Gertrud Kolmar, Jakob van Hoddis, Paul Kornfeld, Arno Nadel and Georg Hermann, Theodor Wolff, Adam Kuckhoff, Rudolf Hilferding). Exiled authors despaired and committed suicide, for example: Walter Hasenclever, Ernst Weiss, Carl Einstein, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Toller, and Stefan Zweig.
- Ernst Klee, Das Kulturlexikon zum Dritten Reich. Wer war was vor und nach 1945. S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main (2007), p. 237 (German)
- Gerhard Sauder (Ed.), Die Bücherverbrennung. Zum 10. Mai 1933. Carl Hanser, Munich and Vienna (1983), p. 103ff (German)
- Siegfried Schliebs, "Verboten, verbrannt verfolgt … Wolfgang Hermann und seine „Schwarze Liste. Schöne Literatur“ vom Mai 1933 - Der Fall des Volksbibliothekars Dr. Wolfgang Hermann" in: Hermann Haarmann, Walter Huder, Klaus Siebenhaar (Eds.): „Das war ein Vorspiel nur …“ - Bücherverbrennung Deutschland 1933: Voraussetzungen und Folgen. Catalog of exhibit of the same name, Akademie der Künste, Berlin (1983), pp. 442-444. Medusa Verlagsgesellschaft, Berlin/Vienna (1983). ISBN 3-88602-076-2 (German)
- Ulrich Walberer (Ed.), 10. Mai 1933. Bücherverbrennung in Deutschland und die Folgen. S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main (1983) (German)
- Volker Weidermann, Das Buch der verbrannten Bücher. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne (2008), pp. 17-20. ISBN 978-3-462-03962-7 (German)
- In jenen Tagen... Schriftsteller zwischen Reichstagsbrand und Bücherverbrennung. Eine Dokumentation. Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag, Leipzig und Weimar (1983) (German)
- Herrmann initiated court proceedings within the Nazi Party on December 12, 1936, which were dropped on an order from Hitler from April 27, 1938.
- "„Schwarze Liste“ von Dr. Wolfgang Herrmann, 16. Mai 1933" City of Berlin. Retrieved December 19, 2011 (German)
- Siegfried Schliebs, "Der Fall des Volksbibliothekars Wolfgang Herrmann" in: Akademie der Künste (Publ.) Das war ein Vorspiel nur... Bücherverbrennung Deutschland 1933. Voraussetzungen und Folgen. Berlin (1983), p. 442ff.
- Weidermann 2008, Einleitung (PDF) (German)
- Anselm Faust, "Die Hochschulen und der "undeutsche Geist. Die Bücherverbrennung am 10. Mai 1933 und ihre Vorgeschichte" in: Das war ein Vorspiel nur... Bücherverbrennung Deutschland 1933. Voraussetzungen und Folgen. Akademie der Künste, Berlin (1983), p. 39 (German)
- Anselm Faust, "Die Hochschulen und der "undeutsche Geist. Die Bücherverbrennung am 10. Mai 1933 und ihre Vorgeschichte" in: Das war ein Vorspiel nur... Bücherverbrennung Deutschland 1933. Voraussetzungen und Folgen. Akademie der Künste, Berlin (1983), p. 38 (German)
- Gerhard Sauder, "Vorbereitung der 'Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist'" in: Gerhard Sauder (Ed.), Die Bücherverbrennung. Hanser, Munich 1983. pp. 69-102 (German)
- Birgit Ebbert, "Bücherverbrennung 1933" Shoa.de Retrieved January 9, 2012 (German)