In mid-May 1933, Americans learned that students in German universities planned to burn a long list of books deemed “un-German.” Helen Keller, whose How I Became a Socialist was on this list, wrote this open letter to the students a day before the burning took place.
Keller, who’s now remembered as a gentle, uncomplicated symbol of persistence in the face of lifelong deafness and blindness, was a radical thinker and activist in her time. While Keller was born into an influential and wealthy Southern family, her activism on behalf of blind people, many of whom lived in poverty, caused her to turn to the writings of H.G. Wells and Karl Marx. She eventually became a socialist, a women’s rights activist, an early supporter of the NAACP and the ACLU, and an advocate for free availability of birth control.
This first draft carries hand-written annotations by Polly Thomson, who was, along with Anne Sullivan, one of Keller’s primary aides. The paragraph added at the bottom of the page, which was eventually incorporated into the version sent to the Associated Press for publication, professes understanding for the causes of German discontent, while roundly condemning the response.