Still quote of the moment: Martin Niemöller, “. . . I did not speak out . . .”


First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

– Pastor Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemoller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 - Wikipedia

German theologian and Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 - Wikipedia

Some time this year school curricula turn to the Holocaust, in English, in world history, and in U.S. history.

Martin Niemöller’s poem registers powerfully for most people — often people do not remember exactly who said it. I have seen it attributed to Deitrich Bonhoeffer (who worked with Niemöller in opposing some Nazi programs), Albert Einstein, Reinhold Niebuhr, Albert Schweitzer, Elie Wiesel, and an “anonymous inmate in a concentration camp.”

Niemöller and his actions generate controversy — did he ever act forcefully enough? Did his actions atone for his earlier inactions? Could anything ever atone for not having seen through Hitler and opposing Naziism from the start? For those discussion reasons, I think it’s important to keep the poem attributed to Niemöller. The facts of his life, his times, and his creation of this poem, go beyond anything anyone could make up. The real story sheds light.

Resources:

Noted here last February.

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One Response to Still quote of the moment: Martin Niemöller, “. . . I did not speak out . . .”

  1. Totus Tuus says:

    This was always one of my favorite poems. I used it with my students last year.

    Like

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