web analytics
October 22, 2014 / 28 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

When Helen Keller Confronted The Nazis

The outcry around the world against Nazi book burning included a moving letter from Helen Keller.

Helen Keller

Helen Keller

June 27 is Helen Keller Day – the annual occasion when students across America learn about the disabilities activist whose remarkable achievements inspired her generation, and every generation since. Less well known, but no less deserving of commemoration, was Keller’s powerful outcry against the Nazis.

One of Adolf Hitler’s top priorities when he became chancellor of Germany in 1933 was to prevent schools from using books that the Nazis regarded as “degenerate.” Eighty years ago this spring, Germany was transformed into one huge funeral pyre for any books that differed from the Nazis’ perspective on political, social, or cultural matters, as well as all books by Jewish authors.

The Hitler regime chose May 10, 1933 as the date for a nationwide “Action Against the Un-German Spirit,” a series of public burnings of the banned books. The gatherings were organized by pro-Nazi student groups under the supervision of Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels.

The largest of the 34 book-burning rallies, held in Berlin, was attended by an estimated 40,000 people. Books by German Jews such as Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud were burned, as well as books by the British science fiction writer H.G. Wells (author of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds) and many American writers, including Ernest Hemingway (For Whom the Bell Tolls), Jack London (Call of the Wild), and even Helen Keller.

“No to decadence and moral corruption!” Goebbels declared in his remarks at the rally. “Yes to decency and morality and state!.… The soul of the German people can again express itself. These flames not only illuminate the final end of an old era; they also light up the new.”

A New York Times editorial sarcastically suggested that the Nazis might next begin “burning microphones” to stamp out free speech. Time magazine called the Nazis’ action “a bibliocaust,” and Newsweek described it as “a holocaust of books.” This was one of the first instances in which the term “holocaust” (an ancient Greek word meaning a burnt offering to a deity) was used in connection with the Nazis.

The outcry around the world included a moving letter from Keller, addressed to “the Student Body of Germany.”

“History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas,” Keller wrote. “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 to the soldiers blinded in the World War with no thought in my heart but love and compassion for the German people.”

“Do not imagine your barbarities to the Jews are unknown here,” she added. “God sleepeth not, and He will visit his Judgment upon you. Better were it for you to have a mill-stone hung round your neck and sink into the sea than to be hated and despised of all men.”

Various foreign leaders also criticized the book burnings, but the Hitler regime ignored such protests. Perhaps if the words of condemnation had been accompanied by diplomatic or economic consequences, the Nazis would have had to reconsider.

Five years later, protests by American college students helped prevent another mass book burning by the Nazis, this time in Austria. Shortly after Hitler annexed Austria in March 1938, the Nazis gave the Austrian National Library a long list of books to be removed and burned.

Students at Williams College in Massachusetts sent a telegram to the Austrian library, offering to buy the books. Riots broke out on the Williams campus when anti-Nazi students tried to burn Hitler in effigy, and pro-Nazi students used fire hoses to stop them.

Yale University’s student newspaper urged the school administration to purchase the Austrian books, which it said would both add to Yale’s “intellectual equipment” and “administer a well-justified backhanded slap” to the Nazis. Unfortunately, Yale’s chief librarian disagreed, claiming the book-burnings in Germany were just “students letting off steam.”

Nevertheless, the protests by students at Williams, Yale, and other universities appear to have had an impact. The Austrian National Library announced that the books in question would be locked away rather than burned.

Helen Keller is not known to have commented specifically on the student protests. But one may assume she was deeply proud that at a time when too many Americans did not want to be bothered with Europe’s problems, these young men and women understood the message of her 1933 letter – that the principles under attack by the Nazis were something that should matter to all mankind.

(JNS)

About the Author: Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C., and author of 14 books about the Holocaust, Zionism, and American Jewish history. His latest book is 'FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith,' available from Amazon.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

3 Responses to “When Helen Keller Confronted The Nazis”

  1. Rafi Medoff & Wyman Institute do wonders in their research. I want to know more about the economic boycott led by Col. Mendelson of JWV – and how the Jewish college fraternity reacted / acted /kept silent?

  2. Rafi has done great work again. The problem is why the world didn't hear about this protest when it happened. What can we do to be more effective in the future?

  3. Anonymous says:

    TO all those leading the fight against the holocaust claims conference.. They just want the bad news to go away. We cannot allow this. Feel free to use my name and title anyway that will help..I BELIEVE I AM THE ONLY RABBI OUT IN FRONT. I HAVE SENT REQUESTS FOR HELP TO HUNDREDS OF RABBIS. THEY JUST DO NOT CARE OR DO NOT WANT TO GET INTO I SEEK NOTHING IN RETURN. MY PARENTS HAVE BEEN LONG DEAD. THIS FIGHT IS FOR THE SURVIVORS AND IN MEMORY OF MY PARENTS AND RELATIVES MURDERED BY THE NAZIS.. We are DAVID FIGHTING GOLIATH. SOME OF YOU HAVE MAJOR CONTACTS I DO NOT HAVE AND MANY OF YOU WRITE BEAUTIFULLY.. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
IDF soldiers are evacuated to a hospital after a terror attack.
Photo credit: Smiley Hafuch / Rotter.net
ISIS-Linked Terror Attack on IDF From Sinai
Latest Indepth Stories
Noah and his Family; mixed media collage by Nathan Hilu. Courtesy Hebrew Union College Museum

Myth #1: It is easy to be a B’nai Noach. It is extraordinarily hard to be a B’nai Noach.

Sweden prefers to ignore its own problems and make trouble elsewhere.

The question of anti-Semitism in Europe today is truly tied to the issue of immigration.

256px-Israel-Palestine_flags.svg

Polls indicate that the Palestinians are much more against a two state solution than the Israelis.

Map of Syria-Turkish border area, pinpointing Kurdish border town of Kobani, just taken by ISIS terror forces Oct 7, 2014.

Turkey and Iran the 2 regional powers surrounding the ISIS conflict gain from a partial ISIS victory

Emigration from Israel is at an all-time low, far lower than immigration to Israel from Europe.

Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters: “‘Klinghoffer’ is justified as ‘a work of art’…This is an outrage.”

Do you seriously think that as you kidnap our children we should medically treat and help yours?

Sometimes collective action against the heinous acts of the majority is not enough. The world should not only support the blockade of Gaza; it must enforce the dismantling of Hamas.

The Arab Spring has challenged Jordan with the task of gradual reform with regard to its monarchy.

Israel offered Syria the entire Golan Heights, only to find that the Syrians were demanding MORE!

Israeli hasbara too can be described at best as pathetic, at worst non existent.

A ‘good news’ story from the Nepal avalanche disaster to warm your heart. Take out your Kleenex.

Journalists see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as morality play: Israel=evil; Palestine=innocent

Warsaw Ghetto: At its height, the Nazis walled in some 500,000 Jews within the1.3 square mile area.

While police officers face dangers every day on the job, Jews also face danger in their daily lives.

Carter developed a fondness for Arafat believing “they were both ordained to be peacemakers by God”

More Articles from Dr. Rafael Medoff
Armenian Orphan Rug

The long ordeal of the Armenian Orphan Rug, held hostage to fears of angering Turkey, has finally ended. Or has it?

Medoff-101714

Carter developed a fondness for Arafat believing “they were both ordained to be peacemakers by God”

With generous support from the Egyptian Jewish community, the exiled family built a new life for itself in the Mafruza and Gabbari refugee camps near Alexandria.

While grateful not to be returned to Germany, the passengers understood they were still in the middle of a danger zone.

These “Jewish Amazons” were living proof of the failure of the enemies of the Jewish people.

Jewish soldiers in the Polish forces often encountered anti-Semitic prejudice.

Sulzberger, one of the most famous “religious Jews” who opposed Zionism did not change his mind even after the Holocaust.

Meryl Streep condemned Disney for associating with extremists while doing the very same thing.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/when-helen-keller-confronted-the-nazis/2013/06/20/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: