MAY 11, 1943
WASHINGTON, Monday—Today is the 10th anniversary of the very notorious day when Hitler, in Nazi Germany, ordered the burning of all books by such authors as Pearl Buck, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway, Selma Lagerlof, Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Mann, Stephen Vincent Benet and Sigrid Undset.
In doing this, Hitler thought he would destroy the ideas that inspired these authors and that came to the world through their words. He succeeded in Germany, but in the world, he stimulated interest. Instead of making people pay less attention to what these authors had to say, it made many more people read them, who, perhaps, had never read them before. Their contributions to the thinking of the world are probably far greater than they would have been without Hitler's effort at suppression.
In the democracies of the world, the passion for freedom of speech and of thought is always accentuated when there is an effort anywhere to keep ideas away from people and to prevent them from making their own decisions. One of the best ways of enslaving a people is to keep them from education and thus make it impossible for them to understand what is going on in the world as a whole.
In the case of Germany, however, the people have always had the tools of learning. They have been a highly educated nation. Hitler had to use other methods, and he chose to go back to the practices of medieval days and burn the books whose philosophies were opposed to his. He knew that if these thoughts reached the people, they might stir up unrest and opposition to his own regime.
The second way of enslaving a people is to suppress the sources of information, not only by burning books, but by controlling all the other ways in which ideas are transmitted. Hitler used all of these methods and gained his ends within Germany for a time. In the end, and that end seems to be drawing closer every day, the people whom Hitler has enslaved will have to come in contact again with the world of free expression and thought, then Hitler will have to face the judgment of his own people.
To me this is one of the hopeful elements in an otherwise difficult situation. If the German people had accepted Hitler as a free people, with access to the thought and expression of the rest of the world, and freedom of expression at home, we would face a nation of Hitlers. Now we may hope that we shall face an enslaved nation, where access to freedom of thought and expression may make great changes in the people.