Eighty years ago on Friday, and only months after Adolf Hitler's rise to power, his Nazi followers burnt piles of books in what has been labelled the nation's "intellectual decapitation" - an act of terror that foreshadowed worse to come.
A metal plate in the grounds of Berlin's Bebel Square, where 20,000 books went up in flames, is covered in dust from nearby renovations, but the chilling quote from 19th-century poet Heinrich Heine stands out: "Where they burn books, they will also burn people." was here, outside the city's opera house and Humboldt University library, where shortly before midnight on May 10, 1933 Nazi student groups torched the works of Sigmund Freud, Heinrich Mann, Karl Marx, Kurt Tucholsky and other thinkers and literary giants.
It was the first dark milestone in the Nazis' purge of what they deemed "undesirable and harmful literature" with an "un-German spirit" and ushered in the systematic, deadly persecution of Jewish, Marxist and pacifist writers.
The goal of the students, radicalised by chauvinism, was to eradicate the "decomposing Jewish spirit" and promote "national consciousness".
The fiery spectacle, which was mirrored in 20 other German cities, is now commemorated in a subterranean space on Bebel Square under a glass lid, occasionally stepped on by tourists.
A gaze downward reveals a basement library with empty shelves.
It is the creation of Israeli artist Micha Ullman and recalls how Nazi student groups intended to rip out the literary heart of a nation that thought of itself as "the land of poets and thinkers".
"The works of around 400 authors went up in flames, including the creme of the literary, scientific and intellectual community of the Weimar Republic," Germany's post-World War I government, said Free University of Berlin literature professor Irmela von der Luehe.AFP