Most of us, in this PC age, are familiar with the following sentiments or some variant, supposedly written by prominent German Protestant theologian and pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) about the Nazis.
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.
Finally, they came for me and there was no one left to speak out.
Two things always bothered me about this passage. The first, of course, is that there are so many varieties of this “quote.” Sundry versions include Catholics, homosexuals, socialists, and Social Democrats, while the US Holocaust Museum itself omits the communists. The most historically accurate statement would have it in the order communists, socialists, trade unionists, and Jews. Moreover, “they” never came for Catholics or Protestants per se. Rather, they went after many Christian religious figures who spoke out against the Nazis.
Secondly, there is a complete lack of emotional focus, and the conclusion or punch line is at best facile, if not downright dishonest. He starts off confessing that he did not speak out when he should have, perhaps implying a collective guilt of all Germans. Indeed, Niemöller was a principal author of the Stuttgarter Schuldbekenntnis (“Stuttgart Confession of Guilt”). The problem is that many people DID speak out against the Nazis—although it accomplished little, and even some, like Pope Pius XII, who did more than speak out, and actually helped Jews and others escape death, are now routinely pilloried in the Leftist press, even though Pius was praised after World War II by Golda Meir, and contemporary Jewish leaders.
Moreover, when the Gestapo finally came for Martin Niemöller in 1937, his life was spared because George Bell, the Bishop of Chichester, and others spoke up for him. In fact, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels urged Adolf Hitler to have Niemöller executed, but party ideologist, and probably the purest Nazi of them all, Alfred Rosenberg, hardly a humanitarian, argued against the idea as he believed it would provide an opportunity for people like Bishop Bell to attack the German government. Hitler agreed, and Niemöller spent the rest of the war in Dachau.
It must be noted that Niemöller was a fervent supporter of Hitler, and even volunteered to serve in the German Army in 1939. He got himself put into the infamous concentration camp merely for opposing Hitler’s control of the churches in Germany, and had never opposed Nazi racial theories. Far from it: In 1931 Niemöller made speeches arguing that Germany needed a Führer, and in his sermons he espoused Hitler’s views on race and nationality. This all came out in a mea culpa press conference he gave in Naples in June of 1945. Widespread public outcry prevented him from entering England after the war, his mission of reconciliation notwithstanding.
It was at this point that he became a committed socialist and peace-freak, campaigning against the formation of NATO, condemning Harry Truman as second only to Hitler as a mass murderer, praising Ho Chi Minh, and winning the coveted Lenin Peace Prize in 1967.
Some time after he died in 1984, the poem First They Came For The Communists began to circulate in all of its many forms, and nearly always with attribution to Niemöller. But there is serious doubt whether he wrote it at all, since it is not mentioned by either of his biographers [Dietmar Schmidt (1959) and James Bentley (1984)], and the anecdote most often cited to prove its origin cannot possibly be true.
In this fantasy, he is asked, in 1946, by some students how the Holocaust could have happened, and he answers with the poem. The source, though, is his second wife Sybil von Sell, whom he did not marry until 1971, who was a young child when this allegedly occurred, and could have no personal knowledge of the incident. Rather, she enjoyed the celebrity and was only too happy to feed the myth, offering no explanation of how such pearls of wisdom could have been kept from the public for 38 long years.
A more realistic assessment is that the poem was written by an anonymous Leftist, perhaps a friend of Niemöller’s, who knew that its turgid and vague sentiment would disappear unless credited to a well-known, if ultimately fraudulent “hero.”
Just one more deception brought to you by the usual suspects. What a surprise.