This Day in History

May 9, 1933: Helen Keller Writes to German Students

Time Periods: Prosperity, Depression, & World War II: 1920 - 1944
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.

(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.