Language: English |

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist;
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.


Note by Veni Markovski: This poem is written (?) by Martin Niemoller. Here's what I've found on the Internet about him:

Martin Niemoller, the son of a pastor, was born in Lippstadt, Germany, on 14th January, 1892. At the age of eighteen Niemoller became an officer-cadet in the German Navy. Niemoller was assigned to the training vessel Hertha and eventually graduated to the battleship Thuringen.

By the time the First World War began in 1914, Niemoller had reached the rank of Sub-Lieutenant. It was decided that the Thuringen was too old and was retired from active service. Niemoller was now assigned to a mine-laying submarine (U73). This was followed by spells as an officer on the U39 and the U151. In 1918 Niemoller took command of the UC67. Later that year he was responsible for laying mines off Marseilles. This operation resulted in sinking three enemy ships totalling 17,000 tons. By the end of the war Niemoller was seen as one of Germany's most successful U-boat captains and was awarded the Iron Cross (first class).

After the war Niemoller became active in German politics. Senior officers in the German Army began raising private armies called Freikorps. These were used to defend the German borders against the possibility of invasion from the Red Army. Niemoller joined this group and took part in the attempt to stop a socialist revolution taking place in Germany.

In March, 1919, General Franz Epp led 30,000 soldiers to crush the Bavarian Socialist Republic. It is estimated that Epp's men killed over 600 communists and socialists over the next few weeks. The following year Herman Ehrhardt, a former naval commander and Wolfgang Kapp, a right-wing journalist, led a group of soldiers to take control of Berlin. Niemoller supported this Kapp Putsch and commanded a battalion of Freikorps in Munster. The right-wing coup was eventually defeated by a general strike of trade unionists.

After the establishment of the Weimar Republic Niemoller decided to study theology. He remained interested in politics and became a supporter Adolf Hitler and in the 1924 elections voted for the Nazi Party. Even after he was ordained in 1929 and became pastor of the Church of Jesus Christ at Dahlem he remained an ardent supporter of Hitler. In 1931 Niemoller made speeches where he argued that Germany needed a Fuhrer.

In his sermons he also espoused Hitler's views on race and nationality. In 1933 he described the programme of the Nazi Party as a "renewal movement based on a Christian moral foundation". The following year Niemoller published his autobiography From U-Boat to Pulpit. This right-wing nationalist view of the war and its aftermath made it a popular book with party members and sold 90,000 copies in the first few weeks after it was published.

In 1933 Niemoller complained about the decision by Adolf Hitler to appoint Ludwig Muller, as the country's Reich Bishop of the Protestant Church. With the support of Karl Barth, a professor of theology at Bonn University, in May, 1934, a group of rebel pastors formed what became known as the Confessional Church.

When the Nazi government continued with this policy Niemoller joined with Dietrich Bonhoffer to form the Pastors' Emergency League and published a major document opposing the religious policies of Adolf Hitler. Niemoller was particularly concerned by Hitler's decision that Jews should be expelled from the Church. He argued that once Jews had been converted to Christianity they should be allowed to remain in the Church. As Bonhoffer pointed out at the time, although Niemoller was critical of Hitler he remained a committed supporter of the Nazi Party. Niemoller was later to admit that his group "acted as if we had only to sustain the church" and did not accept that they had a "responsibility for the whole nation".

Niemoller therefore did not criticize the Nazi Party for putting its political opponents into concentration camps. However, he spoke out when members of the Protestant Church were arrested. In his sermon on Sunday 27th June 1937, Niemoller pointed out that on: "On Wednesday the secret police penetrated the closed church of Friedrich Werder and arrested at the altar eight members of the Council of Brethren."

The following month Niemoller was himself arrested. He was held eight months without trial and when his case eventually took place he was found guilty of "abusing the pulpit" and was fined 2,000 marks. As he left the court he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp to be "re-educated". Niemoller refused to change his views and was later transferred to Dachau.

George Bell, the Bishop of Chichester, took up Niemoller's case. He had a series of letters published in the British press about the arrest and imprisonment of Niemoller. Bell argued that Hitler's treatment of Niemoller illustrated the attitude of the German state to Christianity. Bell's campaign helped to save Niemoller's life. It was later discovered that in 1938 Joseph Goebbels urged Adolf Hitler to have Niemoller executed. Alfred Rosenberg argued against the idea as he believed it would provide an opportunity of people like Bishop Bell to attack the German government. Hitler agreed and Niemoller was allowed to live.

Niemoller remained a German nationalist and on the outbreak of the Second World War he wrote to Admiral Erich Raeder offering to serve in the German Navy. The letter was passed to Joseph Goebbels who dismissed the idea as he believed it was an attempt by Niemoller to save his life. Goebbels now leaked the latter to undermine Niemoller's credibility. Niemoller's supporters retaliated by claiming the letter was a forgery. This version was believed and Niemoller became a symbol in Britain of resistance in Nazi Germany.

While he was in Dachau his youngest daughter Jutta died of diphtheria. On 28th February his eldest son was killed in battle in Pomerania. Another son was captured by the Red Army while fighting on the Eastern Front.

In 1945, with the Allies moving in on Germany, Niemoller, Alexander von Falkenhausen, Kurt von Schuschnigg, Leon Blum, and other political prisoners were transferred to Tirol in Austria by the SS. The original plan was to execute them but they were rescued by the Allies just before the end of the Second World War.

On 5th June 1945 Niemoller gave a press conference in Naples. He admitted that he had offered to join the German Navy in 1939. He also confessed that he had "never quarrelled with Hitler over political matters, but purely on religious grounds". This resulted in a savage attack on Niemoller from those newspapers that had presented him as a symbol of resistance to Hitler's government. It was now pointed out that Niemoller had never opposed the Nazi racial theories, but merely the suppression of the Church in Germany.

When it was suggested that Niemoller wanted to visit Britain there was a campaign to keep him out of the country. Tom O'Brien of the TUC General Council wrote: "I sincerely hope he will not be allowed to come. If he is, it will be the first overt move of the Germans to "organise sympathy", as they did so successfully and so hypocritically after the last war. Niemoller commanded a U-boat in the last war and, with his brother commanders, was responsible for the drowning of many unarmed British merchant seamen. In this war he volunteered to serve under Hitler. He was (and may now be) as nationalistic as any of his congregation at the fashionable Berlin church to which he ministered."

The Archdeacon of Lancaster claimed that "the pastor's visit at this time can do nothing but harm". The Daily Telegraph pointed out that Niemoller should be denied entry as there was "no record that he ever denounced Hitler's crimes against humanity or condemned the war". The Home Secretary agreed and announced that Niemoller would not be allowed to visit Britain.

After the war Niemoller became one of the leaders of the Evangelical Church in Germany. After visiting the Soviet Union Niemoller joined the World Peace Movement. On his return to Germany he pointed out: "I cannot accept communism, but I must admit that its ideals are very different from ours, which are all tangled up with the most sordid materialism." Niemoller wrote to his friend Karl Barth explaining that he was gradually being converted to the idea of socialism: "The corner-stone of my thinking is that the root of every evil development is money." Later he wrote that " the rich must be smashed in order to build human brotherhood."

Niemoller also spoke out against the development of the Cold War. In a speech he made in New York he argued: "I am... against the often-heard statement that a war against bolshevism is necessary to save the Christian churches and Christianity. But it is unchristian to conduct a war for the saving of the Christian church, for the Christian church does not need to be saved. The church is not afraid of bolshevism. It was not afraid of Nazism. The church has to serve the communists as well as all human beings. While the church rejects communism as a creed, just as it rejects all other creeds, communism must and can only be fought and defeated with spiritual weapons. All other powers will fail."

Niemoller was a strong opponent of nuclear weapons. He thought the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was immoral. He upset the American government when he stated that after Adolf Hitler, he thought that Harry S. Truman "was the greatest murderer in the world."

In June 1954 Niemoller met Otto Hahn. The two men discussed the latest nuclear developments. Niemoller was shocked when Hahn told him that it was now possible to produce an atomic device that "would end not only all human life on earth, but also the life of every higher organism." That night he re-read the Sermon on the Mount and decided he could no longer justify the use of military force for political ends and became a pacifist.

Niemoller praised the new Japanese Constitution: "The renunciation of war as expressed in the Japanese Constitution has given a first ray of hope to a world in darkness and despair." In April 1958 he travelled to England and took part in the march to Aldermaston that had been organized by the recently formed Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He also campaigned against military alliances such as NATO.

Else and Martin Niemoller in 1961.

On 7th August, 1961 Niemoller was involved in a car crash. His wife, Else Niemoller was killed but as soon as he recovered from his injuries he returned to his campaign for world peace. He became an active member of the World Peace Committee and was for seven years president of the World Council of Churches. He also published a book on his political views entitled One World or No World (1964).

In 1965 Niemoller upset the United States by visiting North Vietnam and meeting Ho Chi Minh. Afterwards he commented: "One thing is clear, the president of North Vietnam is not a fanatic. He is a very strong and determined man, but capable of listening, something that is very rare in a person of his position." Niemoller won several awards for his work for world peace including the Lenin Peace Prize (1967) and the Grand Cross of Merit (1971). He married his second wife, Sybil von Sell, in 1971.

On his 90th birthday in 1982 Niemoller stated that he had started his political career as "an ultra-conservative who wanted the Kaiser to come back; and now I am a revolutionary. I really mean that. If I live to be a hundred I shall maybe be an anarchist." Martin Niemoller died in Wiesbaden, Germany, on 6th March, 1984.

Since his death Martin Niemoller has achieved a great deal of fame for a poem entitled First they Came for the Communists. However, there is some dispute about when Niemoller wrote the poem and whether it has been altered by others over the years.

Niemoller's biographers, Dietmar Schmidt (1959) and James Bentley (1984) do not mention the poem. When it appears in books the origins of the poem are rarely given. A couple of sources claim that according to Niemollers wife, Sybil Niemoller, the poem dates back to a meeting with a group of students in 1946. One student asked: How could it happen? The story claims that Niemoller answered the question with the poem. The fact that Sybil Niemoller is quoted as the source of the story suggests that the poem emerged after the death of Martin Niemoller. This also helps to explain why it is not included in the books by Dietmar Schmidt and James Bentley.

The impression is given that his wife was at the meeting. This may have been true but that would have been Else Niemoller, his first wife. Else was killed in a car crash in 1961. Martin Niemoller did not marry Sybil von Sell until 1971. She was only a child at the time and was obviously not at the meeting she refers to in 1946.

I personally believe that Martin Niemoller never wrote this poem. I suspect it was written by a left-wing peace campaigner after the death of Niemoller in 1984. They were aware that the poem would be ignored if it was published under their name. Therefore, they put the name on the poem of a person who could well have written such a poem Martin Niemoller.

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