“One must take what nature gives as one finds it”
“but there is also such a thing as a spirit of the times, an attitude of mind characteristic of a particular generation, which is passed on from individual to individual and gives its distinctive mark to a society. Each of us had to do our little bit toward transforming this spirit of the times.”
In 1931 Albert Einstein wrote a letter regarding an incident with a professor at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.
“In 1921, a friend of Emil’s was the victim of a politically-motivated murder. Emil attended every day of the ensuing trial, and was shocked to see the judge completely ignore strong evidence that Nazi brownshirts had murdered his friend.
Seeking to learn if this institutional disregard for truth and justice was common in Weimar Germany, Emil conducted a series of studies on political murders. The results were startling: the vast majority of political murders were committed by Nazis, but those murders were rarely investigated, much less prosecuted. Nazis were literally getting away with murder in a supposedly free, democratic society.”
Exposing these truths put Gumbel in immediate danger and he was violently attacked. Academic institutions were under attack. Academic freedom was under attack. (Sound familiar?)
Gumbel found that in a 3-year span from 1919-1922 326 of the 354 politically motivated murders by the right-wing went completely unpunished. Of the less than 30 that were punished, they received 90 years total with 1 life sentence.
During the same time frame, there were 22 politically motivated murders of which 10 executions, 3 life terms, and 248 collective years in prison were imposed.
Einstein’s letter on academic freedom continues “compare the spirit which animated the youth in our universities… with that prevailing today. They had faith in the amelioration of human society, respect for every HONEST
opinion, the tolerance for which our great minds had lived and fought.”
This was almost 100 years ago. Mr. Gumbel was forced out of his own country, fleeing to France. Tolerance had obviously eroded.
Two years after Einstein’s letter was written the book burnings began drawing cheering crowds of up to 40,000. What books were the Nazis burning? What kinds of thoughts and ideas were they trying to prevent from spreading? Einstein’s and Freud’s were among them. Anything deemed against the German spirit. It wasn’t just that these books were Jewish. They contained progressive ideas. They advocated for inclusion, tolerance, and understanding.
“Eerily, among the books consigned to the flames in 1933 were the works of the nineteenth-century Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who in 1822 penned the prophetic words, “Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too.”
Just something to think about.