Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Helen Keller Writes a Letter to Nazi Students Before They Burn Her Book: “History Has Taught You Nothing If You Think You Can Kill Ideas” (1933)

Book burning | Holocaust | Diversity

Open culture  | History May 16, 2017

Helen Keller achieved notoriety not only as an individual success story, but also as 
 prolific essayist, activist, and fierce advocate for poor and marginalized people. She “was a lifelong radical,” writes Peter Dreier at Yes! magazine, whose “investigation into the causes of blindness” eventually led her to “embrace socialism, feminism, and pacifism.” Keller supported the NAACP and ACLU, and protested strongly against patronizing calls for her to “confine my activities to social service and the blind.” Her critics, she wrote, mischaracterized her ideas as “a Utopian dream, and one who seriously contemplates its realization indeed must be deaf, dumb, and blind.”

Twenty years later she found a different set of readers treating her ideas with contempt. This time, however, the critics were in Nazi Germany, and instead of simply disagreeing with her, they added her collection of essays, How I Became a Socialist, to a list of “degenerate” books to be burned on May 10, 1933. Such was the date chosen by Hitler for “a nationwide ‘Action Against the Un-German Spirit,’” writes Rafael Medoff, to take place at German Universities—“a series of public burnings of the banned books” that “differed from the Nazis’ perspective on political, social, or cultural matters, as well as all books by Jewish authors.”  Read more...

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