Martin Niemoller was a decorated u-boat captain in the First World War but subsequently
became a minister of religion and a relatively high profile opponent of the Nazis as they increasingly
gained firm hold of the reins to power in Germany.
Communists, Socialists & Jews
Niemoeller was active as a leader in a so-called Pastors' Emergency League and in a Synod that denounced the abuses of the dictatorship in the famous "Six Articles of Barmen." Such activities finally led to his arrest on 1 July 1937. When the subsequent court appearance was followed by his release with only a modest 'slap on the wrist' Hitler personally ordered his incarceration with the result that Niemoeller remained in concentration camp, including long periods of solitary confinement, until the end of the war.
Niemoller occasionally traveled internationally after the war and delivered many speeches and sermons in which he confessed of his own blindness and inaction in earlier years when the Nazi regime rounded up the communists, socialists, trade unionists, and, finally, the Jews.
In this regard he framed a now famous quotation that is often presented in a corrupted form. Niemoller himself however lived through the events associated with the Nazi seizure of absolute power and knew which groups had been persecuted by the Nazis and also knew the order in which those groups had come particularly under persecution.
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.
Since preparing the above quotation we have received an e-mail from one of our German visitors who took the trouble to visit the Martin Niemoeller Foundation web site (www.martin-niemoeller-stiftung.de) to track down their version of the famous quotation. He has provided the following translation of the quotation available at the Martin Niemoeller Foundation web site:-
When the Nazis came for the communists, I said nothing; I was, of course, no communist.
When they locked up the Social Democrats, I said nothing; I was, of course, no Social Democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists, I said nothing; I was, of course, no trade unionist.
When they came for me, there was no one left who could protest.
Our German visitor's e-mail, sent in the hope of establishing greater precision, further suggests that although Niemoller may have himself translated or restated the saying later with some mention of the Jews his original formulation was perhaps aimed at political and not social organizations.
We hope to investigate this matter futher and to present a definitive version in the future.
The following version of Martin Niemoller's famous quotation or poem actually comes from the text of an Address he gave to the United States Congress in 1968 and which appears in the Congressional Record, October 14, 1968, page 31636.
"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."