This Day in History

May 9, 1933: Helen Keller Writes to German Students

Time Periods: 1920
Themes: Education, World History/Global Studies

Helen Keller letter to German students. Click image for source page with transcription. Source: American Foundation for the Blind

On May 9, 1933, Helen Keller wrote a letter to the students in Germany who planned on burning all books deemed “un-German,” including Keller’s own work, How I Became a Socialist.

In her letter, she wrote:

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. . . .

Do not imagine that your barbarities to the Jews are unknown here. . .

Keller’s letter appeared on the front page of the New York Times and in hundreds of other U.S. newspapers.

The letter may surprise contemporary readers who were unaware of:

(a) the fact that Nazi barbarities to the Jews were well known to the world in 1933 and the early efforts by the International Brigades to fight fascism,

(b) that Keller became a Socialist.

Read how Keller’s activism is omitted from children’s books in “Who Stole Helen Keller?” by Ruth Shagoury.

Read another letter by Keller, this one in 1919 to Eugene Debs after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction and left him to languish in prison.