They Burned the Books
VOICE: Justify the enemy. Appease him. Excuse him. Pardon, condone or accept
him. And, by any intelligent process of thought, you will arrive at the
diabolical, tortured, debased world of Germany and her Axis partners.
ANNOUNCER: Columbia's Wartime Bureau of Information presents Ralph Bellamy in
"They Burned the Books," written by Stephen Vincent Benét.
(PROGRAM OPENS WITH A RUSH OF FIRE-MUSIC, SWELLING AND THEN SUBSIDING; AS
MUSIC SUBSIDES, A HEAVY, OMINOUS BELL TOLLS-- ONE)
VOICES: (TENSE AND WHISPERING) One!
MUSIC: FIRE-MUSIC, UP AND DOWN
BELL: (TOLLS, LOUDER AND QUICKER)
VOICES: (QUICKER) Seven!
MUSIC: FIRE-MUSIC, THEN IN BG
NARRATOR: Nine! Nine iron years of terror and evil!
Nine years since a fire was lighted in a public square, in Berlin.
Nine years since the burning of the books! Do you remember?
Write it down in your calendars, May 10th, 1933,
And write it down in red by the light of fire.
SOUND: CRACKLE OF FLAMES, NOT TOO BIG
NARRATOR: These are people who work by fire.
The Reichstag went up in flames that February
And in March they got their majority and moved in,
The storm-troopers, the heroes of the beer-hall Putsch,
The boys with a taste for beatings and executions,
The limping doctor, the swollen ex-Army pilot,
Gangster and bravo, hoodlum and trigger-man,
Led by the screaming voice that is war and hate,
Moved in on Germany like a cloud of locusts,
Having planned and plotted for long.
They strangled the German Republic and moved in.
SOUND: CRACKLE OF FLAMES
NARRATOR: --And people said,
VOICE: "Well, that's interesting, isn't it?"
VOICE: "Intéressant, n'est-ce pas?"
VOICE: "My dear fellow, this fellow Hitler, quite extrord'nary.
Wonder what the beggar's up to?"
NARRATOR: Or people said,
VOICE: "I see by the papers they had an election in Germany.
They seem to have lots of elections over there."
VOICE: "Say, what do you know about this bank-holiday, Joe?
If you need some cash, I got a couple o' bucks,
But, ah, the banks are bound to reopen."
NARRATOR: That was March fifth. They burned the books May tenth.
Why bother about books?
Why bother to go back to that fateful year,
Year that prepared the blood-purge and the wars,
The death of Austria, the trick of Munich,
The bombers over the defenseless towns,
And all we know and all that must be fought
Here, now and always till the score is paid
And from its grim recital pick one instance
Of calculated wrong?
A book's a book. It's paper, ink and print.
If you stab it, it won't bleed.
If you beat it, it won't bruise.
If you burn it, it won't scream.
SOUND: CRACKLE OF FLAMES
NARRATOR: Burn a few books--burn hundreds--burn a million--
What difference does that make?
SCHILLER: (FIRM, MASCULINE, THOUGHTFUL) It does to me.
Excuse me, sir--my name is Friedrich Schiller,
A name once not unknown in Germany,
One of the glories, so they said, of Germany,
A Germany these robbers never knew.
Over a century and a half ago
I spoke and wrote of freedom.
I spoke against oppressors and dictators.
I spoke for every man who lifts his head
And will not bow to tyrants.
And, though I died, my poems and plays spoke on
In every tongue, in every land for freedom,
For that's what books can do.
And now, today, in the land where I was born--
NAZI: The play, _William Tell_, shall no longer be performed on the stage. It
glorifies a dangerous and unseemly spirit of revolt against conquerors. It
shall no longer be performed on the German stage! This is an order!
NARRATOR: That's what they do. That's what they do to the mind.
That's what they do to the books of their own great dead.
That's how they foul the present and the past,
Shut the mouth so that it cannot speak
Because it spoke for freedom.
Now, here's another ghost,
Pale, frail, satirical, a mocking spirit,
But with the light of freedom in his eyes.
Your name, brave ghost?
HEINE: (SHARP, HUMOROUS) My name? It's Heinrich Heine.
Born to much sorrow, born to be a man.
Out of my laughter and my heart's despair,
I made my little songs--such simple songs
A child could understand them--and grown men
Remember them and love them all their lives.
Some were so funny! Some were pitiful.
And some were trumpet calls for liberty,
For, though I couldn't fight, I was a fighter,
And when my time had come to die, I said
After long torment in my mattress-grave,
"Bury me with a sword upon my coffin
For I have been a soldier of humanity!"
NARRATOR: A soldier of humanity
And you deserved that name,
But now--today--what happens to your songs?
HEINE: Well--there was one about a lorelei,
Just a small song. It went--let's see--like this--
(SINGS FIRST BARS OF "THE LORELEI")
You've heard it, maybe? Many people sing it.
They sang it many years along the Rhine.
They sing it still.
HEINE: Oh, yes. That one of mine they--haven't burned.
That would be just a little difficult.
Too many Germans know the words by heart.
So, with totalitarian courtesy,
They've kept the song--and blotted out my name.
You see--I was a Jew.
NAZI: New editions of the works of the Jew, Heinrich Heine, are not desirable.
In all textbooks and anthologies where the words of the song "The Lorelei"
appear, the name of the Jew, Heine, shall be omitted and the author given as
HEINE: (GENTLY MOCKING) Author well-known--since 1842. Author unknown--since
NARRATOR: That's what they do to soldiers of humanity.
That's how they rob the soldier of his sword,
The dead man of the one thing he may keep,
His name--his very name!
Don't think that's all.
Don't think it's just the singers and the poets!
Light the flames--light the flames--and hear them roar!
See what the flames consume!
MUSIC: FIRE-MUSIC FOR A BRIDGE
SOUND: MARCHING FEET TRAMP ... FLAMES CRACKLE ... CONTINUES IN BG
NARRATOR: They're coming now--the men with the tramping feet,
The hard-faced boys with the truncheons--the new order!
The flames they've lighted howl and leap in the square.
You can't set fire to a Reichstag every day,
But the pyre that they light today shall fling its shadows
In flame and shadow all over the world.
Hear them tramp! They're coming! They bring the books to the fire!
NAZI: The books of the Jew, Albert Einstein--to the flames!
OTHER VOICES: Sieg Heil!
SOUND: LOUD CRACKLE OF FLAMES ... CONTINUES IN BG
NARRATOR: Einstein, the scientist,
Who thought in universes.
Einstein, the man we honor in our land.
NAZI: To the flames with him--to the flames!
VOICES: Sieg Heil!
NAZI: The books of Sigmund Freud--to the flames!
VOICES: Sieg Heil!
NARRATOR: Freud, prober of the riddles of man's mind,
World-known, world famous.
SOUND: TRAMPING FEET HAVE FADED OUT
NAZI: To the flames--the flames!
Burn them--we don't want thought--we don't want mind!
We want one will, one leader and one folk!
HEINE: (CUTTING IN) One vast, inexorable stupidity!
NAZI: Who said that? Gag him--burn him--to the flames!
To the flames with Heinrich Mann and Thomas Mann,
Gorki the Russian, Schnitzler the Austrian,
Hemingway, Dreiser, the Americans!
And now, to the flames with this!
VOICES: Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!
MUSIC: AN ACCENT/BRIDGE THAT DROWNS OUT EVERYTHING ... THEN OUT
NARRATOR: That is the Bible. Would you burn God's word?
NAZI: We need no Bible but the words of the Leader.
We have no god except the German gods.
We have the tanks, the guns, the bombs, the planes!
And that shall be enough!
VOICES: Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! (FADES)
MUSIC: AN ACCENT THAT DROWNS OUT THE FADING VOICES ... THEN, GENTLY, IN BG
HEINE: And yet there shall be weeping for this burning,
Weeping throughout your land.
The weeping of poor women and old men
Who loved and trusted in the word of God
And now are worse than homeless in your world
For you have taken their last failing hope,
The promise of their Father and their Lord.
NAZI: How dare you speak?
Exile and Jew, how dare you speak to us?
HEINE: I speak for all humanity in chains,
Exile, Jew, Christian--for all the prison-camps,
For those who dwell in them and bide their time--
For the dishonored, for the dispossessed,
For those you have ground like wheat.
I speak for every honest man of God,
Driven from his own pulpit, by your might,
And for those who saw that happen--and remember it.
I speak for the dark earth and the mute voices
And yet I speak humanity unbound.
NAZI: You? You are just a singer,
A worthless singer!
And that is why I speak, because I know,
Being a singer, what moves every heart.
I speak with little barbs and little songs
So simple any child can understand
Just what they say--and yet so memorable
Once you have heard them you will not forget them
For they will stay within your memory,
Sweet as first love, salt as the tears of man,
Free as the winds of heaven in the sky.
And you do well to try to shut my mouth
For, while one little song of mine remains,
All that you hate and would destroy remains,
Humor and grace and human tenderness,
Laughter and mockery and the bare sword,
The sword I wanted on my lonely coffin,
The sword of liberty.
NAZI: We'll shut your mouth!
We'll find you in the graveyard where you lie,
Dig up your rotten bones and scatter them,
Scatter them till there's nobody in all the world
Who's heard of Heinrich Heine!
HEINE: (MOCKING) Dig deep! Dig well!
Scatter my bones, break up my burial stone,
Erase my name with all your thoroughness,
Your lumbering, fat-headed, thoroughness,
Smelling of beer and bombs!
And yet, while there's a book, there will be Heine!
There will be Heinrich Heine, laughing at you still,
Laughing with all the free--with all the free! (FADES)
MUSIC: GENTLY, IN BG
There will be Heine. There will be all those
Whose words lift up man's heart.
But only if we choose.
This battle is not just a battle of lands,
A war of conquest, a balance-of-power war.
It is a battle for the mind of man,
Not only for his body. It will decide
What you, and you, and you, can think and say,
Plan, dream, and hope for in your inmost minds
For the next thousand years.
Decide whether man goes forward toward the light,
Stumbling and striving, clumsy--but a man!--
Or back to the dark ages, the dark gods,
The old barbaric forest that is fear.
Books are not men, and yet they are alive.
They are man's memory and his aspiration,
The link between his present and his past,
The tools he builds with, all the hoarded thoughts,
Winnowed and sifted from a million minds,
Living and dead, to guide him on his way.
NARRATOR: Suppose it happened here.
Suppose the books were burned here.
This is a school, somewhere in America.
This is the kind of school we've always had,
Argued about, paid taxes for, kept on with,
Because we want our kids to know some things.
Suppose it happened here.
SOUND: SCHOOL BELL RINGS, FEET SHUFFLE, VOICES BUZZ
MISS WINSLOW: (A TEACHER) The class will come to order.
SOUND: CLASS SETTLES DOWN
MISS WINSLOW: This morning - this morning we are going to discuss some of the
basic American ideas on which our nation was founded--freedom, tolerance,
liberty under law. To start the discussion, I am going to ask Joe Barnes to
recite the Gettysburg Address to us. Do you think you can do that without
looking at your book too much, Joe?
JOE BARNES: (A STUDENT) Why, I guess so, Miss Winslow. Studied it last night.
MISS WINSLOW: Very well, Joe. You may begin.
JOE BARNES: (ENTHUSIASTICALLY) The Gettysburg Address. By Abraham Lincoln.
"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a
new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men
are created equal."
JOE BARNES: (CONTINUES UNCERTAINLY) And now--now we are engaged--we are
NAZI: Stop! The words of the Gettysburg Address can no longer be studied in
any school of our glorious new order!
SOUND: RUSTLE AND PROTESTING MURMUR FROM CLASS, DURING FOLLOWING--
MISS WINSLOW: But those are the words of Lincoln!
JOE BARNES: But Miss Winslow told me--
NAZI: Miss Winslow is no longer your teacher. I am your teacher. (CHUCKLES,
THEN STERNLY) Attention!
SOUND: CLASS COMES TO ORDER
NAZI: When I give the command, you will rise and bring your textbooks to my
desk. All this nonsense of freedom and tolerance--that is finished. All this
nonsense of men being equal--that is finished. We shall give you new
textbooks. The old ones will be burned in the schoolyard. Are there any
questions? (NO ANSWER) Good. The new order does not like questions.
MISS WINSLOW: I protest! This is infamous! You can't know what you're doing!
I've taught here for twenty years!
NAZI: So I understand. That is a long time, Miss Winslow--too long. You
deserve a long rest. We'll see that you get it. No, no, no, you needn't bother
to say goodbye to your students. (CALLS) Guards! Take the woman away!
MUSIC: AN ACCENT/BRIDGE, THEN OUT
NARRATOR: Impossible? Fantastic? Sounds that way.
Ask the teachers and books of occupied France,
France, that loved letters--France, once the light of Europe--
Read the list of the books the French--can't read any more.
What sort of books?
Well, there are all kinds, of course, from detective stories
To the life of a great French queen. But here, for instance,
Is a history of Poland--
NARRATOR: Why? Well, according to the New Order,
Poland has no history.
NAZI: Poland has no history.
NARRATOR: And here,
_French History for Secondary Schools,
History of France, History of France and Europe,
Contemporary Europe, Legends and Fables of
France for Children--_
NAZI: Suppressed. Withdrawn. On the blacklist.
NARRATOR: But these are not guns or daggers
Stored up against revolt. They're the commonplace
Textbooks, thumbed by a thousand schoolboy fingers,
Inkspotted, dogeared, drowsed over in classrooms,
Familiar and dull and mild.
They must be harmless enough.
NAZI: They are not harmless. We know what we are doing.
MUSIC: GENTLY, IN BG
NARRATOR: Yes. They know what they are doing.
They know, if you take the children of a country
And teach them nothing but lies about the world,
Give them no chance for argument or questions,
Give them no books that show another side,
No word of all the words that speak for freedom,
The man who grows from the child will believe the lies
And never hear of the truth.
It's a simple plan,
As simple and efficient as arsenic.
Just rewrite all the books to suit yourself
And the rest will follow in time--the beatings and burnings,
The massed, mechanical might and the metal men.
MUSIC: A FOREBODING ACCENT, THEN OUT
NARRATOR: Would you like a sample of American history,
Nazi style? Can you stand it? You'd better know
What it would be like for your children and their children.
You heard Joe Barnes give the Gettysburg Address.
This is what he'd be like if he'd never heard it
Or anything like it, ever--if all his books
Were the textbooks of the New Order,
If our schoolbooks wore swastikas.
Come in Joe, will you?
Looks different in his brown shirt, doesn't he?
Can you tell us about American history, Joe?
Some--names--and dates--and people--
JOE BARNES: (MECHANICALLY) American history dates from the foundation of the
NARRATOR: Nothing before that?
JOE BARNES: Nothing important.
NARRATOR: Well, come, Joe, there must have been one or two things before that.
JOE BARNES: (INSISTS) Nothing important.
NARRATOR: After all, for instance, the discovery of America. That was fairly
important. Do you know anything about that?
JOE BARNES: Yes. That is in my book. (RECITES MECHANICALLY) "America was
discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, an honorary Aryan."
NARRATOR: An honorary Aryan? I always thought he was an Italian.
JOE BARNES: That was before the New Order. He is now an honorary Aryan of the
second class--like Mussolini and Hirohito.
NARRATOR: I wonder how he likes that. However--after Columbus--?
JOE BARNES: There came the New Order.
NARRATOR: But weren't there just a few things in between? Wasn't there
something called the Declaration of Independence?
JOE BARNES: (SCORNFUL) Oh--that! Yes, there was that. But it was all wrong. It
said everyone was entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That
was all wrong.
NARRATOR: Who wrote it?
JOE BARNES: It is unimportant who wrote it. It is not in my book.
NARRATOR: Didn't you ever hear of a man named Thomas Jefferson?
JOE BARNES: Thomas Jefferson? No. There is no such man in my book.
NARRATOR: Or George Washington?
JOE BARNES: Yes, he was a general. But not a very good one. He was defeated by
German might at the battle of Trenton. Afterwards he foolishly became
President of the United States instead of ruling his country with a strong,
NARRATOR: But maybe he didn't believe in ruling people with a strong, mailed
JOE BARNES: (IMPATIENT) He may have had some such old-fashioned, sentimental
ideas. That is why he is unimportant historically.
NARRATOR: And is he an honorary Aryan, too?
JOE BARNES: The state has not yet decided. But the man to study in his period
is Benedict Arnold--a man much ahead of his time.
NARRATOR: I always thought Benedict Arnold was a traitor to his country.
JOE BARNES: Traitor? What nonsense! He sensibly tried to collaborate with a
stronger power in order to save his countrymen from the horrors of democracy
and revolution. He is a very honorary Aryan of the first class, with star. We
have many honorary Aryans just like Benedict Arnold.
NARRATOR: I wouldn't be a bit surprised. And--just one last question, Joe.
JOE BARNES: Yes. But hurry, please. I must attend a Strength Through Joy
meeting--and it is necessary for me to clean my pistol, first.
NARRATOR: Did you ever hear of a man who said "Government of the people, by
the people, for the people?"
JOE BARNES: (VIOLENTLY, FEARFULLY) Certainly not! Of course not! It's a lie!
You've been spying on me! My father did have the book but I never saw it! It's
a long while ago and the teacher's been sent away! I know nothing about
MUSIC: AN ACCENT/BRIDGE, THEN IN BG
NARRATOR: That's it. That's how they work. That's what they do to kids. That's
the way they'd like to work here.
NAZI: (CHUCKLES) That's it, my friend. You see, we can destroy
Houses with bombs and people with starvation,
Outflank defensive lines and tramp ahead.
We can destroy the spirit of a nation
With poisoned doubts and fears,
Erase its history, blot out its past,
Sully its famous names and substitute
Our words for all the words of liberty.
But, while there is a single man alive,
Hidden or starving, who somehow remembers
The vows of freedom, the undying words
That spoke for man's free mind,
Though they were said a thousand years ago,
Our conquest is not perfect.
They are terrible,
These immaterial and airy words,
Sharp as edged swords, infectious as the plague.
They travel silently from mind to mind,
Leaving no trace. They live in quiet books
You hardly would suspect unless our leader
Has wisely warned us of them. They hide and creep
In jokes and catchwords under our own noses,
In dots and dashes, in a bar of music.
MUSIC: OPENING NOTES OF BEETHOVEN'S FIFTH SYMPHONY, THEN OUT
NAZI: Within the silent eyes of hungry men,
Waiting their time, waiting their hungry time.
That's why they must be killed.
That's why we burn the books. That's why we burn
All knowledge, all the recollected thought
Gathered in patience through three thousand years
Of civilization. That knowledge is man's brain
And till we've taken an electric wire
And burned the brain cells from his very brain
So he will be a dumb and gaping slave,
We cannot win. And still we mean to win!
Get the fire ready! Bring the books to the fire!
MUSIC: FIRE-MUSIC, FADES INTO--
SOUND: TOLLING OF A GREAT BELL ... THREE TIMES
NARRATOR: Nine years ago.
NARRATOR: Nine years ago in Berlin.
NARRATOR: Nine years ago in a public square in Berlin.
NARRATOR: They burned the books and that was the beginning.
We didn't know it then. We know it now.
Hear the books burn.
SOUND: FLAMES CRACKLE
VOICES: Einstein--to the fire!
Mann--Toller--Helen Keller--to the fire!
Old Testament and New--to the fire--to the fire!
Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!
SOUND: FLAMES CRACKLE ... BELL TOLLS ONE FINAL TIME ... THEN OUT
MUSIC: GRIM, IN BG
NARRATOR: This is in memory. This is in remembrance.
This is for all the lies that have been told.
The innocent blood, the blood that cries from the ground,
Rise up and speak, you voices!
Voices of dead and living, past and present,
Voices of gagged men, whispering through sore lips,
Voices of children, robbed of their small songs,
Strong voices, chanting of the rights of man,
Rebel and fighter, men of the free heart,
We, too, shall build a fire, though not in fear,
Revenge or barren hate, but such a great
And cleansing fire it shall leap through the world
Like leaping flame!
Freedom to speak and pray,
Freedom from want, and fear, freedom for all;
Freedom of thought, freedom of man's bold mind!
NARRATOR: Who marches with us?
SCHILLER: I am Friedrich Schiller
And I march with you in the cause of man.
HEINE: I am the soldier of humanity,
The mocking smile upon the face of Time
That men called Heine. And I march with you.
MILTON: (ENGLISH) I am old and blind.
I knew oppression and defeat and scorn
And the high justice of eternal God,
Paradise lost and paradise regained,
And I march with you.
SWIFT: (IRISH) Though bitter indignation
Tore at my heart and cracked it till it broke,
I never had a patient mind for tyrants,
And I march with you.
WHITMAN: (AMERICAN) I hailed my sunburnt children in their youth,
I said they should be free. I sang democracy,
The new word, the new meaning, the new day,
And I march with you!
HUGO: (FRENCH) The miserable shall be lifted up.
The tyrants all cast down.
TENNYSON: (ENGLISH) The Parliament of Man, the Federation of the world.
TWAIN: (AMERICAN) Well, maybe they'll take a while to grow
But Pudd'nhead Wilson says,
"Cauliflower is just a cabbage with a college education."
So we might start in
About this business now.
I may have made a living cracking jokes,
But one thing I did hate was cruelty.
One thing I did dislike was pompous fools
Treading on decent people. Count me in.
MUSIC: IN BG
NARRATOR: Milton and Whitman, Tennyson and Swift,
Mark Twain and Hugo--every one who wrote
With a free pen in words of living fire,
From Plato, dreaming of his bright Republic,
To every exile walking in our streets,
Exiled for truth and faith.
And all of ours, all of our own today,
All those who speak for freedom.
These are our voices. These shall light our fire.
Light the bright candle that shall not be quenched,
That never has been quenched in all man's years
Although his darkness and all tyranny
Have tried to quench it.
Call the roll of those
Who tried to quench it!
VOICE: (COLD, ECHOING) Darius, the Persian. Darius, the Great King.
NARRATOR: Where is Darius?
VOICE: (COLD, ECHOING) Dead. Forgotten and dead.
VOICE: (COLD, ECHOING) Attila the Hun. Attila, devourer of peoples.
NARRATOR: Where is Attila?
VOICE: (COLD, ECHOING) Bones. Forgotten bones.
VOICE: (COLD, ECHOING) Alaric the Goth. Alaric, destroyer of Rome.
NARRATOR: Where is Alaric?
VOICE: (COLD, ECHOING) Dust. Forgotten dust.
NARRATOR: Adolf Hitler, born April 20th, 1889.
WHISPERING VOICES: Adolf Hitler.
NARRATOR: Adolf Hitler, burner of books.
WHISPERING VOICES: Adolf Hitler.
NARRATOR: Adolf Hitler, destroyer of thought.
WHISPERING VOICES: Adolf Hitler.
NARRATOR: (AFTER A PAUSE) Adolf Hitler, born 1889.
WHISPERING VOICES: Died. Died. Died.
MUSIC: INCREASINGLY INTENSE, IN BG
NARRATOR: We are waiting, Adolf Hitler.
The books are waiting, Adolf Hitler.
The fire is waiting, Adolf Hitler.
The Lord God of Hosts is waiting, Adolf Hitler.
MUSIC: TO A FINISH
ANNOUNCER: You have heard Ralph Bellamy in "They Burned the Books," a drama
written for radio by Stephen Vincent Benét. Tonight's performance was
broadcast by permission of the Writers' War Board. The script of this
broadcast is available in pamphlet form through your bookshop or from the
publishers, Farrar and Rinehart. We wish to thank the Hollywood Victory
Committee for the appearance on this program of Mr. Ralph Bellamy. Music by
Wilbur Hatch. Program produced by Chet Huntley. This is the Columbia
Originally broadcast: 1942