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Helen Keller's Words: 80 Years Later… Still as Powerful

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Helen Keller's letter to the Germany Student Body, dated May 9, 1933

May 9, 1933
To the Student Body of Germany
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.
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. 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.
Helen Keller

From the Archivist:

It is 80 years to the day that Helen Keller penned this letter to the Student Body of Germany. It's as powerful now as it was then. Helen came to write this letter because her book entitled How I became a socialist was burned by Nazi youth during the book burning frenzy that took place in Germany in May 1933.

The Helen Keller Archival collection here at the American Foundation for the Blind contains over 80,000 items and there are plenty of extraordinary documents to read and beautiful 3-dimensional items to be wowed by. However, this letter has always stood out for me. It stands out not just because of its richly evocative language and scathing admonishment of what was taking place in Germany, but because it is singularly Helen Keller.

Helen is famous for fighting for those with vision loss, but she was also a fighter for freedom of speech and the right of every individual to live in dignity. Many still think of her as a child at the water pump or a saintly old lady, but this is to come away with a very limited understanding of Helen and what she accomplished.

Helen was a warrior who never ceased throughout her life to demand that women, the poor and disenfranchised be afforded an equal chance to live a full life. It is interesting to consider that as the Cold War set in and many American women were being relegated to the kitchen, here was a person who was in her 60s and 70s, who was deaf, blind, a socialist and a woman, and she was circumnavigating the globe unstoppable in her mission of equal rights and justice for all.

Helen Keller