“After eight years in a concentration camp, I viewed things differently.”

April 17, 2012

Over the past year, the quote from Martin Niemӧller has been bantied about, but it either goes un-noticed and un-appreciated or is simply ignored as another mans quote from long ago and we can’t be bothered with men from long ago.  Not in these modern times, anyway.

So today, right now, we’ll drill down into this whole Niemӧller story so that next time you hear it, you can say, “Ah, Niemӧller.  I know what he was getting at.”  You need to know that 75 years ago, one man saw what was going on around him and didn’t like it one bit. And that he had eight years in a concentration camp to sort of mull things over.  Maybe we’ll be so lucky.  To survive our  internment, I mean.

Most of this comes from Wikipedia, which should be one of your everyday “go to’s” for something quick like this.  Just keep in mind that Wikipedia is slowly being purged of certain views, so searching background information on some things might lead you to, how do you say in English, “real crap”.

Martin Niemöller was born the son of a Lutheran pastor, in January 1892, in Lippstadt, Germany.  By 1915, he was an officer in the German Navy and was assigned to several submarines during WWI and saw some serious shipping tonnage sunk.  He was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class, in 1918.  He resigned his commission at the war’s end, and after trying farming for a while, went to a university in Munster to study theology.  He was ordained in June 1924.  By 1931, he was a Lutheran Pastor at a church south-west of Berlin.  (The neighborhood around the Max-Planck institute, for you super-geeks. You just have to go riding the U-Bahn around Berlin someday.  The U3 line takes you into Dahlem from downtown.)  After joining several church organizations and signing petitions to protest the Nazification of the German Protestant churches, he was arrested and tried in a special court in March 1938, for “activities against the state”.  He was fined 2000 marks and got a seven month prison term, but as he had been already detained since July the previous year, he was released.  Immediately after leaving court, he was arrested by the Gestapo and was “detained” in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps between 1938 to 1945.  Starting to sound familiar yet?

In October, 1945, Neimöller was one of the people who came up with the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt, “expressing lament over their own and the church’s failure to speak out loudly and clearly against Nazism.”

After talking with Otto Hahn (can you say nuclear fission?) in the summer of 1954, Neimöller became a pacifist, campaigned for nuclear disarmament and became a leading figure in the German peace movement.

In 1959, he was interviewed  by a Jewish researcher about war crimes committed by the Nazi regime. In a written reply, “Niemöller stated that his eight-year imprisonment by the Nazis became the turning point in his life, after which he viewed things differently.”

In 1961, he became leader of the World Council of Churches and in October 1968, when he was 84, he was invited to speak before Congress where he said this now famous story:

“When Hitler attacked the Jews
I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned.
And when Hitler attacked the Catholics,
I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned.
And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists,
I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned.
Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church —
and there was nobody left to be concerned.”

which appears in the Congressional Record, October 14, 1968, page 31636.  In English. (We won that war.)

Sound familiar yet?

This thought you need to keep close everyday.  When you read WRSA or TL Davis or even Sipsey Street, think of Niemöller.  Even Billy Beck says we aren’t going to vote our way out of this one. So what will you do?

In 2010, they came for the big banksters and home mortgage people.  I was not a big bankster so I was not concerned.

In 2011 they came for the Tea Party and the religious right.  I was not with the Tea Party or the religious right so I was not concerned.

In 2012, they came for the domestic terrorists and the one percenters.  I was not a domestic terrorist so I was not concerned.

In 2013, when they came for me…….

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3 Responses to ““After eight years in a concentration camp, I viewed things differently.””

  1. C. Smith Says:

    In 1968, he would have been 76, not 84.


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