Banned Books Week comes at the end of this month, but this year it seems appropriate to draw attention to it a little early. One church in Florida has made the news by planning to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The plans have been condemned by political, religious, and military leaders.
The phrase that’s been in my head all week as I follow the news is a quote from Aunt Elinor in the book Inkheart:
“‘You know what they say: When people start burning books they’ll soon burn human beings.'”
I’m not sure if I had come across the quote before reading Inkheart. I knew Cornelia Funke was a German author, and I assumed the quote was related to the Holocaust. In a way, it is. The quote comes from a play by Heinrich Heine, whose works were burned by the Nazis. The quote appears, in German, at a memorial marking the site of a book burning by Nazis on May 10, 1933, in Berlin:
photo by conbon33
The memorial also features a glassed-off, underground view of empty bookshelves:
However, Heinrich Heine was not alive at the time of the Holocaust. I found a little information about the context of the quote in a book review I read last night. The words were spoken by a character in the play Almansor, written 1820-1821. They refer to a Christian leader publicly burning the Koran.
Here are Heine’s words, through the character Hassan, in the translation given in the article:
“That was but a prelude: where books are burned
In the end people are burned also.”