All Quiet on the Western Front as a Banned Book

Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Erich Maria Remarque's famed World War I novel ''All Quiet on the Western Front'' drew harsh criticism from the start. This controversial book has been banned and even burned - but why? Find out in this lesson.

Why Ban A Book?

You've probably had some kind of experience in your life having to do with banned books, whether in reading them or watching a controversy surrounding them. Perhaps you have even wanted to see a book or two banned. A fancy word for banning or suppressing material some find offensive (usually on political or moral grounds) is called censorship. A book is typically banned because someone somewhere is offended or frightened by what it says.

Published in 1928, Erich Maria Remarque's 'All Quiet on the Western Front' is one such book. It centers on the German war effort during World War I, describing in stark, realistic detail the life a soldier led at the front. You might have an idea as to why people would take issue with this type of book. Emotions in the post-war period ran very high, especially in the country where the book was originally published: Germany.

The novel portrays trench warfare, as seen here, as being particularly terrible and gruesome
Trench warfare

Germany During The 1930s

After World War I ended, Germany was in dire straights, as was much of the rest of Europe. Nations had greatly damaged each other for several years during World War I. By the early 1930s, one politician was using German fear and emotion to gain power. That man was Adolf Hitler.

In 1928, All Quiet on the Western Front was published, and it immediately polarized people in the author's home of Germany. Some said it portrayed Germans as whimpering and cowardly; others, mostly Germans, said the novel exaggerated the horrors of war in order to advance Remarque's so-called 'pacifist agenda'. Some said the book was brilliant, portraying the war as it had truly been, without patriotic fanfare or sugarcoating. Remarque had actually served on the Western Front during the war and suffered injuries. He was eighteen years old.

It was into a convoluted, frightened Germany that the novel was born.

Un-Patriotic and Anti-War

One thing the Nazis disliked about All Quiet on the Western Front was its realistic, gritty portrayal of German soldiers in the war. The Nazis hoped to get citizens excited about being German (and therefore amenable to future wars). However, the novel posed a threat to their propaganda efforts by depicting the grim reality faced by young men on the front lines.

In short, Hitler was trying to unite Germans under a patriotic ideal. All Germans, especially German soldiers, were supposed to be brave and strong, serving their Fatherland with dignity. Yet, the boys in Remarque's novel reflected the reality of soldiers during WWI. They were very young, barely out of school. They got scared (one young man even wet his bed), they questioned the point of the war, and they even attacked their commander at their training camp. The protagonist even spends time in a foxhole mourning a French soldier he's just killed, wondering about his family and his life, wishing he could take it back. This conflicted greatly with the image Hitler was trying to create through propaganda.

Another problem the Nazi Party had with the novel was the fact that, at its heart, the book was decidedly anti-war. Men suffer abysmal, horrifying wounds. They perish in great pain and suffering. Men are shelled for hours at a time and wonder if they'll live until the morning. However, the Nazis wanted war. If you're trying to convince people that war is necessary and will make your country great again, this is not what you want them to read.

The Nazis disliked the gritty portrayal of the trenches that Remarque presented in his novel

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