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Document Details :
Title: Furore teutonico
Subtitle: De brand van een bibliotheek
Author(s): DEREZ, Mark
Journal: Tijdschrift voor Filosofie
Volume: 76 Issue: 4 Date: 2014
Although Leuven’s Institute of Philosophy was reorganized into a field hospital in July 1914, most professors and students at the university did not really expect the war that had erupted in the Balkans to reach the middle-sized provincial university town of Leuven. However, as early as August 1914, Leuven surrendered to German troops without so much as a fight. Earlier stories about civilian snipers triggered a veritable psychosis about so-called franc-tireurs, civilians shooting German soldiers. In revenge for this illusory scaremongering, Germans severely punished the Leuven population and ransacked the town. Specialized Brennkolonnen burnt the town centre culminating in the fire of the University library. The sack of Leuven, and the deliberate burning of a treasured library collection appalled intellectuals worldwide. The death of the library led to a hitherto unseen protest against the wanton destruction of cultural heritage. The French writer Romain Rolland wrote to his German colleague Gerhart Hauptmann, accusing the Germans of barbaric destruction of mankind’s heritage. Many men of letters followed suit. The Germans responded with a manifesto, An die Kulturwelt, signed by 93 German artists and intellectuals. The outrage against German destruction reached a new high when Reims Cathedral was burnt down. The future architect of Leuven’s new university library, the American Whitney Warren, and the French poet Apollinaire were among those who claimed that the destruction in Leuven and Reims proved the Germans’ intention to destroy European heritage. The president of the Leuven’s Institute of Philosophy, Monsignor Simon Deploige, was one of the leading forces in rallying support for a new collection of books. The Treaty of Versailles forced the Germans to deliver a great number of books and it was Herbert Hoover who raised enough funds to build a new library. Another fierce battle followed, between the architect Whitney Warren and the university’s rector about decorating the façade with a straightforward anti-German and pro-American message: Furore Teutonico diruta / dono Americano restituta. Warren wanted the text but it was not to be. The Germans, however, did not forget the accusation and in 1940 they burnt the library all over again.