“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
” Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
” Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
” Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me. “
Martin Niemöller was a German pastor and theologian born in Lippstadt, Germany, in 1892. Niemöller was an anti-Communist and supported Hitler’s rise to power at first. But when Hitler insisted on the supremacy of the state over religion, Niemöller became disillusioned. He became the leader of a group of German clergymen opposed to Hitler. Unlike Niemöller, they gave in to the Nazis’ threats. In 1937 he was arrested and eventually confined in Sachsenhausen and Dachau. His crime was “not being enthusiastic enough about the Nazi movement.” Niemöller was released in 1945 by the Allies. He continued his career in Germany as a clergyman and as a leading voice of penance and reconciliation for the German people after World War II. His statement, sometimes presented as a poem, is well-known, frequently quoted, and is a popular model for describing the dangers of political apathy, as it often begins with specific and targeted fear and hatred which soon escalates out of control.
Back in the 1950’s, the utility companies had a ditty along similar lines “Ten Little Indians.” It’s almost impossible to find any more (I looked), but is a countdown of businesses getting nationalized until the newspaper gets taken over - “and then there were none.”