History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas
Helen Keller writes to the Nazi students who are soon to burn her books
Beginning May 10th, 1933, as part of a nationwide, coordinated purge, students at various universities across Nazi Germany began to remove all books deemed “un-German” from their institutions. Those volumes were then piled high in public areas and set alight as thousands watched and cheered, the crowds in some cases addressed by prominent figures such as Joseph Goebbels. It is believed that tens of thousands of books were ultimately destroyed during these ceremonies. The day before the burnings began—on this day in 1933— deafblind author and activist Helen Keller discovered that one of her books had been chosen for destruction. In response, she wrote a defiant open letter to the student body of Germany that was published in the New York Times and beyond.
May 9, 1933
To the student body of Germany:
History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas. Tyrants have tried to do that often before, and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them.
You can burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe, but the ideas in them have seeped through a million channels and will continue to quicken other minds. I gave all the royalties of my books for all time to the German soldiers blinded in the World War with no thought in my heart but love and compassion for the German people.
I acknowledge the grievous complications that have led to your intolerance; all the more do I deplore the injustice and unwisdom of passing on to unborn generations the stigma of your deeds.
Do not imagine that your barbarities to the Jews are unknown here. God sleepeth not, and He will visit His judgment upon you. Better were it for you to have a millstone hung around your neck and sink into the sea than to be hated and despised of all men.