First they came for the Jews

First they came for the Jews

When no one else can be prosecuted, who is left? Why didn’t he speak out before? Eventually, he did and he wrote a poem about it. This is “First they came for the Jews” by Martin Niemöller. There is a side note to this poem though.

Side note

There’s this side note…

It’s unusual to start with this side note. This has everything to do with the publication of this poem. You can ask the question: was it necessary to publish this poem? Written by someone who once was opposed to the German Weimar Republic (1919 – 1933), but remained quiet during the years the nazis ruled Germany. Yes, he was against the introduction of the Aryan Paragraph. Couldn’t he do more?

Yes, this poem was published on the website and there is a good reason for this. It shows people can in fact change. Also, it shows that enemies can change. Whenever enemies are defeated or killed, new enemies can be created.

Does this poem deserve a platform? The poem itself states what racism is. Once a group is eliminated, a new group will be the subject of prosecution and even far worse. History has proven this many times.

No, Niemöller didn’t speak out when the nazis took power in 1933. They put aside the democracy and the country was then ruled by one person: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945). We all know what his reign lead to. Destruction and death.

Even though nazi Germany was responsible fort he Holocaust, it’s not right to assume every German citizen was wrong. Not everyone. Some spoke out, but with consequences. Nowadays Germany has a law that is a step further than other countries: denying the Holocaust is illegal.

Just like many other European countries, Germany deals with the rise of racists and nationalist groups. There is no difference in Germany considered to other nations such as France or The Netherlands. By publishing this poem and the backgrounds, we try to show you that there is a need to think twice when it comes to racism. Racism is a dead-end street and will lead to prosecution, imprisonment and death. History has proven this.

So, there’s your side note…

First they came for the Jews

First they came for the Jews

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.

Then 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 me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me

— Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemöller

Who was Martin Niemöller?

Niemöller (full name Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller) was born on 14 January 1892 in a changing Germany. After the First World War the German emperor was set aside and a republic was born. As many protestant pastor (Niemöller was a pastor), he was opposed to the Weimar Republic. But in 1936 he opposed to the Aryan Paragraph, that was the basis for the removal of Jews from public functions and in fact the German society. Together with a group of German pastors, he signed a petition to condemn this Aryan Paragraph.

This all conflicts with other statements made by Niemöller about antisemitism. But the matter of the fact is that he was arrested in 1937. He was brought before a “Special Court” and was considered an enemy of the state when the judges came with their verdict on 2 March 1938. He received a prison term of seven months and received a fine for 2,000 Reichsmarks. Because he already was in jail for that amount of time, he was set free. After leaving the court building, he was arrested again by the Gestapo. He was send away to the concentration camp Sachsenhausen and from there on to Dachau. In April 1945, he was liberated by the Seventh United States Army, after the group he was in was taken hostage to negotiate with the Allied troops about a surrender of the German army in the region of Tyrol.

Because of his beliefs and the support in the Thirties, he was not granted a Nazi victim status. It was his beliefs about antisemitism that played an important role in the denial. This however did not stop him to make a career in the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau. He was the president of this church region between 1947 and 1961.

Niemöller spoke out after the war about issues such as nuclear disarmament and against the war in Vietnam. However, the accusations of his life in the Thirties remained.
He died in the German city Wiesbaden on 6 March 1984 at the age of 92.

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