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Letter to Helen Keller Describing Her Visit With Disabled, Deaf, and Blind Children in Post-War Italy

Excerpt from a letter to Helen Keller, written by Ernst Papanek, Ed.D.
June 28, 1965

It was quite some time ago -- in 1946-47 -- but in my mind I can still see you vividly, standing for hours talking to the students and answering their questions. The questions were not always the most intelligent ones; for instance, "How do you keep your girlish figure?" or "How can you ride horseback when you can't see in what direction the horse is going?" And then your wonderful answer, "I just hold onto the horse and let him run wherever he wishes!" And you and the children had a good laugh over this description. Or when you stated that once you learned to speak, you were quite voluble and a real blabbermouth!

It was an unforgettable and moving experience to see you touch the face of a blind child or kiss the face of a crippled one. How your face expressed your sentiments, and how your love inspired the children to carry on in spite of the tremendous handicaps they had to overcome. You pushed them in the direction of a more happy life. You were the undisputed leader, leading because you had conquered those handicaps and you were concerned with theirs. You were so knowledgeable and so determined -- and all of that with a deep sense of humility.

For quite a while I had a picture in my office, cut out of the Bulletin of American Youth for World Youth, showing your visits to the war-crippled children of Italy -- children who had lost their eyesight, a leg or an arm, when playing with hand grenades lying around. There was no horror in this picture, when the children crowded around you and felt -- even if they could not see you, even if they could not touch you -- the warmth and friendship of one who went through quite an ordeal herself; one who had not known them before she met them on this day, and who was one with them at this moment.

It doesn't sound good enough when I say: Thank you for what you untiringly did for those children, and for all mankind who, after an unbelievable holocaust of hatred and violence, found strength, encouragement and help in your kind and positively structured personality. How much your help meant to the millions of kids who worked for or were helped by American Youth for World Youth, and what it meant to me, personally, I am not able to express in words.

All the best wishes from my wife, our sons and myself.
Gratefully and cordially yours,

Ernst Papanek, Ed.D.
Professor of Education


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