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After the German War of Liberation against France and Napoleon, many people were bitter about dreams of German unity shattered after the Congress of Vienna. Democratic reforms were stalled, and governments had cracked down on press freedom and rights of association.
In 1815 the students of Jena founded the youth organization Teutonia in order to encourage German unity at the university. Many of them had participated as voluntary soldiers on the fields against Napoleon, e.g. in the Lützow Free Corps, the black-red-gold colour scheme of which was adopted for the Flag of Germany. The German students demonstrated for a national state and a liberal constitution and condemned "reactionary" forces in the newly recreated German states.
On the occasion of the three-hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther's nailing of his theses and the fourth anniversary of the bloody Battle of Nations at Leipzig, the student groups organized a festival at the Wartburg. This castle had been a refuge for Martin Luther. Inasmuch as he had translated the Bible there and thus set a standard for the German language, it became a symbol of German nationalism.
The event itself was also used as a justification for further suppression of liberal forces, such as the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819.
After the end of the official festivities and referring to Martin Luther's burning of the papal bull Exsurge domine in 1520, followers of "Turnvater" Friedrich Ludwig Jahn arranged a book burning with the burning of mocked books symbolizing a number of reactionary literary works, and symbols of Napoleon's foreign rule like a corporal's cane. This act was used in 1933 as a justification for the Nazi book burnings.
The symbolically burnt books comprise:
- Jean Pierre Frédéric Ancillon: Ueber Souverainitaet, etc. (De la souveraineté), ["On Sovereignty" (and the Forms of Government)]
- F. v. Cölln: Vertraute Briefe ["Private Letters"]. Freymüthige Blätter ["Candid Papers"]
- August Friedrich Wilhelm Crome: Deutschlands Crisis und Rettung im April und May 1813. ["Germany’s Crisis and Salvation in April and May, 1813"]
- Dabelow: Der 13e Artikel der deutschen Bundesacte ["The 13th Article of the Act of German Confederation"]
- Karl Ludwig von Haller: Restauration der Staatswissenschaft ["Restoration of Political Science"]
- August von Kotzebue: Geschichte des deutschen Reichs ["History of the German Realm"]
- Ludwig Theobul Kosegarten: Rede gesprochen am Napoleonstage 1800 ["Speech delivered on Napoleon’s Day, 1800'], Geschichte meines fünfzigsten Lebensjahres ["History of My Fiftieth Year of Life'], and Vaterländische Lieder ["Patriotic Songs"]
- Carl Albert Christoph Heinrich von Kamptz: Codex der Gensd'armerie ["Codex of the Gendarmerie"]
- W. Reinhard: Die Bundesacte über Ob, Wann und Wie? deutscher Landstände ["The Acts of the Confederation on Whether, When, and How? The State of the German Nation"]
- Schmalz: Berichtigung einer Stelle in der Bredow-Venturinischen Chronik; und die beyden darauf ["Account of a Passage in the Chronicle by Bredow and Venturini, and (the commentaries of) Both Thereon"]
- Saul Ascher: Germanomanie ["Germano-Mania"]
- Zacharias Werner: Martin Luther oder die Weihe der Kraft ["Martin Luther, or, The Consecration of Force"], Die Söhne des Thals ["The Sons of the Valley"]
- K. v. Wangenheim: Die Idee der Staatsverfassung ["The Notion of a National Constitution"]
- The Napoleonic Code
- Justus Friedrich Wilhelm Zachariae: Über den Code Napoleon ["On the Code Napoléon"]
- Karl Leberecht Immermann: Ein Wort zur Beherzigung (gegen die Burschenschaft zu Halle) ["A Word of Heed (Against the Student Association in Halle)"], 1814
- Gerd Fesser: "Von der Napoleonzeit zum Bismarckreich: Streiflichter zur deutschen Geschichte im 19. Jahrhundert", Donat, 2001, p. 86
- Media related to Wartburg festival at Wikimedia Commons