Thursday, July 16, 2020

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out." Reflections on Martin Niemöller, who stood up against the Nazis

First 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 for me.
Martin Niemöller
 (1892-1984)

Like most Americans, I am familiar with Pastor Martin Niemöller's famous quote, but I knew almost nothing about him until recently. I knew he was a Protestant pastor who opposed Adolph Hitler during the 1930s, but I did not realize that Niemöller spent seven years in a Nazi concentration camp.

As William Shirer noted in his memoirs, Niemöller would seem to be an unlikely person to stand up to the Nazis. Niemöller had been a decorated U-boat commander during the First World War. He was a fervent nationalist during the post-war years, and he welcomed the day when Hitler became the chancellor of the Reich in 1933.

But Niemöller slowly became disillusioned with Hitler, and he spoke out publicly against Nazism from his pulpit. At some point, Niemoller realized that Hitler meant to wipe out Christianity in Germany and replace it with the National Reich Church.

Indeed, Hitler's national church publicly repudiated the "strange and foreign" Christian religion. The Reich church openly acknowledged that it intended to place Mein Kampe on church altars instead of the Bible.

With great courage, Niemöllerdefended his Christian faith against Hitler's paganism. In 1937, he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Dachau.

Shirer, reflecting on the struggle between Hitler and German Christians during the 1930s, admitted that he had perhaps paid too much attention to it. After all, most Germans were not alarmed by what the Nazis were doing. "I should have realized," Shirer wrote, "that a people who had so lightly given up their political, cultural and economic freedom were not . . . going to die or even risk imprisonment to preserve freedom of worship."

Today, the United States is swirling in a witch's brew of cancel culture, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and "wokedom." Elected politicians publicly denounce the police, and demonstrators feel free to throw bricks and bottles at police officers. Day after day, vandals posing as protesters destroy statues and monuments that memorialize America's heritage. Churches and businesses are being set afire, and almost no one is prosecuted.

If the United States had a free press and healthy universities, all this destructive rhetoric and criminal behavior would be thunderously denounced in the media, much as some newspapers denounced the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.

But America no longer has a free press. Instead, as Bari Weiss wrote this week in a letter to the New York Times," a new consensus has emerged in the press . . . that truth isn't a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else."

If our nation's universities were truly a marketplace of ideas, as the Supreme Court once described them, our intellectuals would speak up when a professor is bullied and even fired for failing to acquiesce to the destructive agenda of the cancel culture. But they are not speaking up.

For the most part, Americans are indifferent to the mass assault on traditional American values and our nation's democratic traditions. Our media and our universities are hell-bent on destroying American society, and few people dare to stand up to them.

We are like the Germans of the 1930s who stayed on the sidelines instead of opposing Hitler's thuggery. And like the Germans, we will eventually regret our cowardice.



Pastor Martin Niemöller spent seven years in a Nazi concentration camp.


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