My translation of Oskar Maria Graf’s 1933 open letter, “Verbrennt mich!” Kristel and I read this in a German class forever and a day ago. The current political and cultural climate in the United States made me think of it.
Like almost all other intellectuals in Germany who are judged leftists or considered socialists, I expected to receive quite a few blessings from the new regime. While I happened to be away from Munich, the police raided my dwelling there, intending to arrest me. They confiscated a large portion of my unrecoverable manuscripts, my painstakingly assembled source material, my professional records, and a good many of my books. They are probably all fodder for the burning even as we speak. I was therefore obliged to leave my home, my work, and—perhaps worst of all—my native land in order to avoid the concentration camp.
But the biggest surprise only just now reached me. According to the “Berliner Börsenkurier,” I am on the “white list” of the New Germany’s authors, and all of my books, with the exception of my magnum opus, “We Are Captives,” are recommended! I am said to be one of the exponents of the “new” German spirit!
I wonder in vain what I have done to merit this disgrace.
The third reich has robbed almost all German literature of any meaning. It has disassociated itself from real German poetry, it has hunted down the better part of its real authors into exile, and made the publication of their work impossible in Germany. The cluelessness of some boisterous writers of trash and the unrestrained vandalism of the current powers-that-be are trying to wipe out everything in our poetry and art that is of universal value and to replace the very concept of “German” with the most narrow-minded nationalism. A nationalism, by the inspiration of which even the smallest stirrings of freedom are suppressed. A nationalism at whose command all my upstanding socialist contemporaries are persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, murdered, or driven to suicide by desperation!
And the representatives of this barbaric nationalism (which has nothing—not a damn thing—to do with being German) have the nerve to claim me as one of their “intellectuals,” to put me on their so-called white list, which to the world’s conscience can only be a black list!
I have not earned this dishonor!
After my whole life and all my writing, I have the right to demand that my books be burned at the stake rather than fall into the bloody hands and the numbed brains of these brown-clad bands of death!
Throw the works of the German spirit into the flames! It will be as unquenchable as your disgrace!