The character, Eugenie, thought it was Voltaire. It wasn’t. It was the German poet Heinrich Heine (who lived most of his adult life in France), but a tough-minded editor thought it would be too pernickety for Bruno to check out the quote and later to correct her. I have felt guilty about letting Heine down ever since, particularly since he also wrote the lovely line: “How maddening it would be, said God, if there were no more Frenchmen.”
Among the many books the Nazis burned at the Berlin Opernplatz in their characteristically otiose attempt to purify German literature were the works of Heine, a great irony since he also wrote, in his play Almansor: “This was but a prelude; in the place where they start by burning books they will end up by burning people.” Fitting, therefore, that those words are now embedded in the ground at the spot where the Nazis lit the flames.
Heine was not prophetic by chance; he displayed a shrewd understanding of what was coming. In his History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany, he forecast the Gotterdammerung that the Nazis would unleash:
“Do not smile at the visionary who anticipates the same revolution in the realm of the visible as has taken place in the spiritual. Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder is of true Germanic character; it is not very nimble, but rumbles along ponderously. Yet, it will come and when you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world's history, then you know that the German thunderbolt has fallen at last. At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A drama will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll."