For many years in German history, Nathan the Wise has been banned. During the Nazi era it was banned, and it caused controversy from the date of its...

For many years in German history, Nathan the Wise has been banned. During the Nazi era it was banned, and it caused controversy from the date of its publication up until the fall of the Nazi regime. What about it would make people in Germany want to ban it during these periods of time?

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Lessing's Nathan the Wise is a classic play about tolerance—the virtue of tolerance and understanding for people of different religions and backgrounds. Lessing modeled the character of Nathan on that of his real-life friend, the writer and philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (whose grandson was to be the composer Felix Mendelssohn). Nathan...

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Lessing's Nathan the Wise is a classic play about tolerance—the virtue of tolerance and understanding for people of different religions and backgrounds. Lessing modeled the character of Nathan on that of his real-life friend, the writer and philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (whose grandson was to be the composer Felix Mendelssohn). Nathan is the protagonist and the most sympathetic character in the play.

Lessing's basic theme is that no one group of people are better than others or have the right to discriminate against or condemn others because they are different. In the play, set in Jerusalem during the Crusades, we see representations of the three principal monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The message of the work is that each religion is valid and that no one has any business imposing his religion or beliefs upon others.

Obviously the Nazis, or any other antisemitic or bigoted group, would hate Lessing's play because its message of tolerance is the opposite of what these people believed. The Nazis banned and burned the works of Jewish authors as well as the work of anyone whose ideas were contrary to their own. It is a great irony that a German, Lessing, wrote what is arguably the archetypal play about sympathy for Judaism and all religions, when 150 years later the Holocaust would begin in his own country.

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