"Wherever they burn books, in the end will also burn human beings." - Heinrich Heine
Essayist, journalist and poet Christian Johann Heinrich Heine is considered one of the most significant German romantic poets. Born into a family of assimilated German Jews in 1797, Heine's father was a merchant, and his mother the daughter of a physician. After his father's business failed, Heine was sent to Hamburg to go into business, but soon took up law instead. At that time, Jews were forbidden from entering certain professions, one of which was university lecturing, a profession that Heine was drawn to. He took his law degree in 1825 and converted from Judaism to Protestantism the same year - he later described his conversion as "the ticket of admission into European culture", and spent much of his life wrestling with the incompatible elements of his German and Jewish identities.
He made his poetry debut with Gedichte ("Poems") in 1821, followed by Buch der Lieder ("Book of Songs", 1827). He left Germany for Paris in 1831 where he associated with utopian socialists who preached an egalitarian classless paradise based on meritocracy. In 1835, German authorities banned his work and that of others associated with the progressive Young Germany movement; but Heine continued to comment on German politics and society for the rest of his life from his exile in France, only returning to Germany once in secret. He died in Paris in 1856 after an eight year illness.
In 1933, copies of Heine's books were among the many burned on Berlin's Opernplatz. To commemorate the event, one of the most famous lines from Heine's 1821 play Almansor is now engraved at the site: "Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen." ("Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too."). In the play, this is a reference to the burning of the Quran during the Spanish Inquisition in an effort to eradicate the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula, which had been a major center of medieval Islamic culture.
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