The nineteenth-century German-Jewish poet and author Heinrich Heine wrote: “Where books are burned, in the end people will be burned.” In Nazi Germany, his prophecy came true.
On the night of May 10, 1933, thousands of Nazi university students and many professors stormed universities, libraries and bookstores in twenty German cities. They removed hundreds of thousands of books and cast them onto bonfires. In Berlin, where 20,000 books were burned, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels shouted to the crowd “The age of hairsplitting Jewish intellectualism is dead. . . . The past lies in flames.”
Books by German Jewish authors such as Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Max Brod, Franz Werfel and Stefan Zweig were thrown on the pyre. Also burned were books by non-Jewish authors considered hostile to the Nazi regime, such as Nobel Prize-winning German author Thomas Mann, his brother Heinrich Mann, Erich Maria Remarque and Berthold Brecht, and Americans Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Upton Sinclair, John Dos Passos, Theodore Dreiser and Sinclair Lewis -- even Helen Keller, who had overcome deafness and blindness to become a best-selling author. When told of the book burnings, Keller said “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.”
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