UC Santa Barbara > History Department > Prof. Marcuse > Research Pages > Niemoeller Quotation Page
Niemoeller quotation at the Monmouth New Jersey County human relations commission

Martin Niemöller's
famous quotation:

"First they came for the Communists ... "

What did Niemoeller himself say?
Which groups did he name?
In what order?

a page by Harold Marcuse, UC Santa Barbara
created Sept. 12, 2000, last updated Feb. 28, 2013

1997 Poster from the Syracuse Culture Workers; see Images of Quotation page.

I almost have a definitive answer to the first question, as well as some preliminary answers to the other two.


Harold Marcuse in 1999Hello, I am a professor of German history a the University of California, Santa Barbara, where I've been teaching since 1992.
My research specialization is how various groups have looked back on the Nazi period over the years since 1945. I've written a book Legacies of Dachau, 1933-2001 about how various groups shaped the Dachau camp since its liberation in 1945.

In November 1945 German Pastor Martin Niemöller visited the former Dachau concentration camp, where he had been imprisoned from 1941 to April 1945. His diary entry about that visit and some subsequent speeches he gave imply that that visit triggered the thought that became this famous quotation. Since discovering the diary entry in the late 1980s I've tried to find out when Niemöller first said that quotation in its poetic form, but I have not been able to document it with a published source. Thus I can't say what the original version was. However, the quotation most likely emerged in 1946, and it definitely took on the well-known poetic form by the early 1950s.

  • I began the research for this page by obtaining published speeches Niemöller gave in the period 1945-1954, and searching in them for this or similar statements (jump to discussion, below). Below (and on separate pages) readers will find passages from these published speeches, with English translations, and some interpretative discussion, including a list of other sources I obtain and examine as time permits.
  • I have also examined other researchers' discussions of the origins of this quotation (jump to section, below).
  • Finally, I have a section with other versions of the quotation I found on the web (jump to section).
  • As usual with websites, this page is continually being expanded, and I welcome your comments <mailto: marcuse@history.ucsb.edu>.

News and announcements (back to top)
  • Feb. 28, 2013: Conference paper by Matthew Hockenos, Skidmore College, "Martin Niemöller in America, 1946-1947: ‘A Hero with Limitations’" in: ACCH Quarterly 18:2 (June 2012).
    • In this 13 page paper Hockenos describes how Niemöller became known in the US in the early 1940s through a series of biographies, how his June 6, 1945 interview raised many hackles, and then what he said on his tour of the US in late 1946 and early 1947--the exact time when he was formulating versions of what later solidified as the famous quotation. From this summary (pages 6-9 of my printout), based on the scripts of N's sermons, it seems he emphasized German suffering quite a bit, while only touching on German guilt. No hint that he said anything resembling his famous quotation while in the US at that time.
    • However, Hockenos gives the archival location of the sermons/addresses N gave: "WCC Archives," located north of Geneva, Switzerland (google map).
  • Jan. 26, 2012: Florida governor Rick Scott, speaking to the Board of a state business group, used his own interpretation of Niemöller's quotation to defend Mitt Romney. He began by saying that he had a poster of the quotation on his walls (beginning with "... the Jews ..."), then said other Republican candidates shouldn't attack Bain Capital.
    • Miami Herald blog post; Local channel 10 news blurb;
    • One of the responses to the Herald blog post was this adaptation:
      First Rick Scott came for the teachers, but I said nothing as my kids were nearly out of school.
      Then he came for the university professors, but my kids don't take anthropology so I said nothing.
      Then he came for the prisons and handed those over to corporations. And still I said nothing because I hadn't broken any laws.
      "Then he came for the writers and thinkers and the political activists, and I thought, serves those people right for being so mouthy.
      Then he came for our county commissions, our school boards, he wanted it all. And since I had said nothing all through this, there was no one left to help me.
      Now I am in corporate jail raising tilapia in a fish pond for 25 cents a day."
  • 4/22/11 (updated 9/12/11): I added 13 pages scanned from a 1986 German book composed of 15 biographical interviews upon which a film about Niemöller's life was based. In one interview Niemöller talks in 1976 about a 1974 event in which he resurrected the quotation. The book is titled Was würde Jesus sagen? -- What would Jesus say?
    • Note that the book is in German. The German Niemöller Foundation uses this passage (Niem. Found. quotation page), in which Niemöller refers to what the Niemöller Foundation dates as a 1976 event, to call this the "classical" version. However in this 1976 interview Niemöller no longer remembered the version he had used in the late 1940s. When he gave the interview in the 1976 he was 84 years old (born in 1892), so it is understandable that he might better remember something he said a few years earlier than an even earlier use 30 years before that..
    • Note further that the separately printed version on p. 71 of that book does not include the Jews (!), as if Niemöller himself had not mentioned them. However, since the interview question was about Jews, the fact that N. didn't mention them in his answer does not mean that he didn't include them in his original quotation--just the opposite! This adds another point of confusion to the already murky lineage of the quotation.
    • Finally, I've included extra pages in the pdf, namely the prefaces, the table of contents, and a timeline of Niemöller's life (final pages). I added asteriks in the margin to indicate where, in his answer, he mentions the Communists, Trade Unions, and Social Democrats, in that order (see p. 69).
  • 12/13/10: A video version of the quotation is embedded on silentconscience.org, Dec. 2, 2010; originally by karmic courage on youtube (5:20), uploaded Feb. 15, 2008 [14,488 views on 12/12/2010].
  • 5/20/10: Another flagrant misappropriation of the quotation (see 12/16/09 announcement, below), this time by Glenn Beck, as shown on the 5/13/20 Daily Show (salon.com page "Lewis Black tells Glenn Beck a thing or two about Nazism" with embedded youtube clip; the references come at 4:30 and 5:15 into the clip):
    • "You ever heard of the old poem 'first they came for the Jews'? Well, first they came for the banks, then it was the insurance companies, then it was the car companies." (Black: difference "they came for the Jews to kill them, but to the companies give the $700 billion.)
    • Beck: "First they came for the Jews and I stayed silent----next I'll show you the very latest attacks on me ..."
    • Update 4/22/11: See also this 10/14/2009 mediate.com article "Glenn Beck compares Fox News to the Persecution of the Jews"
  • 5/2/10: I received an inquiry about how to teach this quotation in a high school class:
    • I am a teacher for the City of Boston, high school special education; I taught a unit on the Holocaust, and will introduce the famous passage, First they came, and have my students analyze this quote.
      I am in need of your help as I wish to teach my students how to effectively analyze this quote. Any suggestions?
    • Here is my answer:
      As a historian at the college level, I'd probably say have students compare the original texts on my website with the "poem" version. Especially for a special ed class it might be of interest that in the earliest versions Niemöller definitely included the disabled (which is historically correct and logical), while none of the later poem versions do.
      Since this may be too advanced for high school, here is a site with a lesson plan for high school that I think is very good: 6-page lesson plan "Exploring Personal and Collective Responsibility in WWII" by the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans.
      I'd give the students a little more biography of Niemoeller than that site offers. An excellent primary source is this Feb. 1938 Time magazine article that talks about what Niemoeller did in WWI and how close he had been to the Nazis at the outset, and how he got into trouble with them.
      In addition, if I recall correctly, Niemöller later often told an anecdote about how his sub sank a ship off Greece, and although international law required the rescue of drowning passengers, he did not do that, which later came back to haunt his conscience.
  • 3/05: I've added a translation of the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt from October 1945 (Stuttgarter Schuldbekenntnis)
  • 1/29/07: Another quotation of mysterious origin: "One man with courage makes a majority"--is often attributed to US president Andrew Jackson, but he never said it. In fact, it was penned by an 1860 biographer who was critical of Jackson. See Daniel Feller, "The greatest thing Andrew Jackson never said," LA Times, Jan. 26, 2007. (hi-res printable scan)
  • 2/13/07: rendition of the Niemöller quotation published in 1955 by Milton Mayer added. The quotation was clearly circulating before ca. 1951, when Mayer conducted that interview. The importance of this publication is that it sets a so-called terminus ante quem--a date before which Niemöller must have said whatever version(s) he used.
  • 10/29/07: Images of Quotation page added.
  • 8/19/08: Discussion of false attribution to Bertolt Brecht added, below.
    YouTube clips:
    • 1:11 by nyprogressive, added 9/27/06; text montage a la Star Wars; 1946: Communists, Socialists, trade unionists, me; 2006: foreigners
    • 2:07 by Michelle Malkin, added 12/31/06; montage of news photos; about violence after Danish Mohammed cartoons
    • 5:30 by Kate Chaplin, added 2/15/08; recited by a professional with a gas-guzzling Hummer: Jews, gays, Muslims, me.
  • 12/16/09: a reader of this page sent me a link to Jon Stewart's persiflage of one of the Republican speakers' bowdlerization of the quote at a recent "tea party" in Washington D.C. Fox News star and talk radio host Laura Ingraham said (roughly) the following (note: she was not very articulate, although she appears to be reading from a script):
    First they came for the rich, and I did not speak out because I was not rich,
    Then they confiscated the property owners,
    Then they took away our right to bear arms, but I didn't speak out because I wasn't armed.

    (This segment starts about 3 mins. into the full episode, but do watch from the beginning.)

I am often asked "What is the correct sequence and groups in the quotation?"
Here is my March 2006 answer to one of those queries (with subsequent updates):

  • There are in fact several "correct" versions. Niemöller named different groups when he first coined the saying, probably in 1946, than when it was revived in the 1970s and he was again asked about it.
  • In several 1946 speeches he mentioned the following groups (in this order, see below):
    1. Communists
    2. Incurably sick
    3. Jews or Jehovah's Witnesses (depending on which speech)
    4. People in countries occupied by Nazi Germany.
  • In 1976 Niemöller was asked about the quotation in an interview. The Martin Niemoeller Foundation in Germany takes his 1976 answer to be definitive [see: <http://www.martin-niemoeller-stiftung.de/4/daszitat>]. In his lengthy answer Niemoeller mentioned the following groups, and claimed that he started using the quotation only recently (namely at a 1974 event, which is demonstrably untrue, since it appeared in print as early as 1955, based on a 1951 interview with someone who quoted it) :
    1. Communists
    2. Trade Unions
    3. Social Democrats
    4. Jews who had become Protestant ministers (Niemoeller speaks of "Judenstämmlinge"--Jews by descent).
      Here is my translation of the quotation found on the Niemoeller Foundation page:
      'There were no minutes or copy of what I said, and it may be that I formulated it differently. But the idea was anyhow: The communists, we still let that happen calmly; and the trade unions, we also let that happen; and we even let the Social Democrats happen. All of that was not our affair. The Church did not concern itself with politics at all at that time, and it shouldn't have anything do with them either. In the Confessing Church we didn't want to represent any political resistance per se, but we wanted to determine for the Church that that was not right, and that it should not become right in the Church, that's why already in '33, when we created the pastors' emergency federation (Pfarrernotbund), we put as the 4th point in the founding charter: If an offensive is made against ministers and they are simply ousted as ministers, because they are of Jewish lineage (Judenstämmlinge) or something like that, then we can only say as a Church: No. And that was then the 4th point in the obligation, and that was probably the first anti-antisemitic pronouncement coming from the Protestant Church.'
    • published in: Martin Niemöller, Carl Ordnung, and Walter Feurich, Was würde Jesus dazu sagen?: Reden, Predigten, Aufsätze 1937 bis 1980 (Union Verlag, 1980).
  • I don't think that this 1976 statement reflects what Niemöller had said in the 1940s--in 1976 he was 84 years old, and he might have forgotten that he had used it in speeches more than 30 years earlier. The first documented reference to the precise quotation that I know of is in a book first published in 1955, which is based on interviews conducted some time between 1950 and 1954. In that version the interviewee was speaking from memory, and may have added his own groups, namely "schools" and "the press." In any case, in that book author-educator Milton Mayer (1908-1986) quotes a German professor he interviewed who refered to Niemöller having said:
    1. Communists
    2. Socialists
    3. schools
    4. the press
    5. Jews
    6. the Church (see Mayer, below for full citation and quotation)
      Note 3/15/11: I just received a flurry of emails from scholars and ultimately from the USHMM about the quotation. Apparently there is a controversy about whether Niemöller included Catholics. It is quite clear from the 1976 interview (see my translation above) that Niemöller meant ONLY the Protestant (Evangelical/Lutheran) Church. In fact, some Catholic clergymen spoke against the murder of the "incurably ill." And just by the way, according to figures compiled by Johannes Neuhäusler (1899-1973) , one of Niemöller's prison-mates in Sachsenhausen and Dachau from 1941 to 1944, there were 447 German Catholic priests in Dachau (of 2720 total Catholic priests, including 1780 from Poland). While this is a far cry from the "thousands" of persecuted Catholics some bloggers name, it is also vastly more than the handful of German Protestant clergymen (most from the Confessing Church) who were imprisoned for their principled stance. [scrapbookpages cites William Shirer's figure of 807 Confessing Church pastors who spent time in concentration camps; Neuhausler's figures imply that 141 were in Dachau]
  • Note 5/3/2010: I have found a few sources from the late 1950s and early 1960s that use the quotation. There are three contemporary reviews of Mayer's book (Sept. 1955 AAAPS; Oct. 1955 ASR; Jan. 1956 AJS], and the one in AAAPS does paraphrase the quotation (image). Also:
    • it was picked up in a pamphlet printed in defense of African-American communist activist Claude M. Lightfoot (1910–1991) in 1955: The Case of Claude Lightfoot, issued by the Lightfoot Defense committee, Chicago, Illinois, 1955 (google books page--which has no page scans however [it may not be in the first printing, but in subsequent ones--I have a pdf of one book without it, and a screen capture with]).
    • Presumably from Mayer the quotation made its way into several educational publications by the 1960s. One of those publications is the 1958 edition of the Goodrich/Hackett stage version of The Diary of Anne Frank. It was added on p. 150 as one of the appendices with activities for students:
      • Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Anne Frank, The Play of the Diary of Anne Frank (Heinemann, 1958)(previous edition: New York: Random House, 1956), p. 150. (google books version--use the table of contents links to go to the quotation passage at the end under "further activities"; screenshots from google books: title, copyright, p. 150)
        In this book the order is: Jews, communists, trade unionists, me; it also uses the phrase "I did not speak out" (as opposed to 'was uneasy' or 'kept silent').
  • An often cited published version of the quotation is the 1968 Congressional Record (see below). Howard Samuels, an official from a business organization, was testifying before Congress. He explicitly referred to Niemöller as the originator. I am quite sure that Samuels excluded and included certain groups to suit his own business agenda. In my opinion, Niemöller would not have named Catholics or industrialists at all. In 1968 Samuels named the following groups:
    • Jews
    • Catholics
    • Industrialists/Trade Unions [these are opposites--and industrialists were NOT persecuted!]
    • Protestant Church.
  • Thus the quotation was clearly well known long before 1974, the year in which Niemöller, in a 1976 interview, at that time thought he first said it. Whether you want to take the 1946 not-quite-polished versions, the 1955 published version of a ca. 1951 interview (to which the secondhand narrator probably added his own groups), or the 1976 erroneous memory by Niemöller himself as the "correct" version, is up to you.

Niemoeller in the 1960s or 70sAs a short summary of my assessment of the origin of the quotation and its original version, I offer this Jan. 8, 2003 answer I wrote in response to an e-mail query:

Yes, I think Niemöller did say something to this effect, or he would certainly have denied it during his lifetime [in 1976 the 84 year old N. indeed afirmed that he said it]. Sibylle Niemöller's 1986 letter (and Franklin Littell's claim) that Niemöller did not include the Catholics is almost certainly true, in my opinion. I personally think Niemöller may himself have used different versions of these words in different speeches/sermons, and he may not have hit upon the particular most-quoted formulation all at once. I know that he varied his anecdote about his November 1945 Dachau visit subtly at different venues.
I have no idea whether he first made this statement in English or German. As noted on this web site, I still have not been able to find any published version very close to the pithy, poetic formulation, although I have checked quite a few sources for the years 1945-1954. In addition to many publications of Niemöller's speeches, I have reviewed a number of English language periodical publications for articles about Niemöller for those years, including the magazine Christian Century and the New York Times (as indexed in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, and the New York Times index) for those years.

Milton Mayer's book, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1955, 1966), p. 168f quotes a German professor in "Kronenburg" (probably Mainz--its population was about 42,000 at the time) whom Mayer interviewed between 1950 and 1954, as follows:

"Pastor Niemöller spoke for thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something--but then it was too late."

The 1968 rendition of the quotation in the Congressional Record (the first published version I know of)[after I wrote that I found one prior to 1955 and a couple more in the late 1950s] is certainly a paraphrase, with the various groups chosen by the paraphraser. In 1968 Congressman Henry Reuss of Wisconsin cites Howard Samuels, "Administrator of the Small Business Administration and a leader of the Nation's Jewish community," at a rally at the Washington monument on the weekend preceding his Oct. 14, 1968 remark in Congress (Record, p. 31636). The Record gives Reuss' rendition of Samuels' statement as a direct quotation of Samuels (not Niemöller): "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 [sic!], 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." The inclusion of industrialists by Samuels doesn't make much sense in the historical context of the 1930s, and appears to me to be self-serving (Samuels being in the Small Business Administration). Omitting the Communists and placing Jews first probably also shows the paraphraser's personal bias and conception of historical events. The phrasing is awkward, and the verb "attacked" doesn't sound like Niemöller. (The usual English rendition of the quotation uses "came for." The verb in the last line, "to be concerned," is usually given variously as "stand up for," "speak out," "protest," or "remained silent.")


jump below to: other discussions of origin, other versions, biographies, Niemoller's publications

Portrait of Niemoller in the 1970sMartin Niemöller (1892-1984): biographical sketch (back to top)

German theologian and Protestant (Lutheran) pastor, founder of the anti-Nazi Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church) in 1934, and a president of the World Council of Churches from 1961 to 1968.

Niemöller was a commander of a German U-boat in World War I. A seminal incident in his moral outlook, as he related in many public speeches later in his life, occurred when he commanded his submarine crew not to rescue the sailors of a boat he torpedoed, but let them drown instead. Niemöller began studying theology in Münster in the 1920s. At this time, and at least until the mid-1930s, Niemöller was a typical Christian antisemite who openly professed his belief that the Jews had been punished through the ages because they had "brought the Christ of God to the cross." [See Niemöller, First Commandment (London, 1937), 243-50; reference provided by Werner Cohn. See also my discussion of Niemöller's antisemitism with Prof. Cohn, and this exchange with Harry Reynolds.] [added Nov. 6, 08: Article on antisemitism vs. anti-Semitism in Haaretz, Nov. 6, 2008; see also this 1989 article from the Vidal Sassoon Center newsletter]

  • According the Niemöller quotation article on the USHMM website, Wolfgang Gerlach, in his And the Witnesses Were Silent: The Confessing Church and the Jews (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2000), p. 47, says that Niemöller first made a "statement of regret" about his own antisemitism in a 1963 TV interview. This is in my opinion clearly incorrect, since Niemöller's 1945 diary entry and use of the quotation in subsequent speeches expresses regret about his earlier antisemitism.

Cover of a 1941 publication of Niemoeller's sermons: "Dennoch getrost: Die letzten 28 Predigten"In 1931 Niemöller became a pastor in a wealthy Berlin suburb. As a German nationalist he initially supported Hitler, but as the Nazis began to interfere in church affairs, he moved into opposition. In 1934 Niemöller founded first the Pfarrernotbund (Pastors' Emergency League), then the Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church), a branch of the German Protestant (Lutheran) Church. In 1937 he was arrested because of his outspoken sermons, and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In 1941 he was moved to Dachau, where he stayed until the end of the war.

Peace movement poster of Martin Niemoeller, 1980s
1980s peace movement poster
Martin Niemöller: "Wer den Frieden will, muß mit dem Gegner gemeinsam leben wollen. Wir müssen vertrauen wagen. Darum Schluss mit dem Rüsten."
('Whoever wants peace must want to live together with their opponents. We have to risk trusting each other. There stop the arms race.')

After the war, he helped to rebuild the reputation of the German Protestant Church, and was one of its leading officials until well into the 1960s. In 1947 his reputation was challenged because he devoted substantial energy to protecting Nazi war criminals from the death penalty, and because of some pro-German things he had said in his own defense while on trial by the Nazis in 1937. However, during the 1950s and 1960s he refused to join in the dominant anticommunist sentiment in the West, which earned him the respect of the left again. His uncompromising stance allowed him to remain a figurehead of the German peace movement into the 1980s. He died in 1984.

Shortly after the end of the war Niemöller became convinced that the German people had a collective responsibility (he often used the word Schuld, guilt) for the Nazi atrocities. In October 1945 Niemöller was the the prime mover behind the German Protestant Church's "Confession of Guilt" ("Stuttgarter Schuldbekenntnis")(see this quotation from Oct. 1945). In later speeches Niemöller claimed that a November 1945 visit to Dachau, where the crematorium was being kept as a memorial site, began that process of recognition. (I tell his story of that visit in detail in my book Legacies of Dachau, excerpted here: Niemöller's postwar Dachau anecdote.)

Niemoller, Of Guilt and Hope titlepageIt was clearly in this Oct/Nov 1945 context that Niemöller's most quoted saying began to evolve. This early statement implies that he may have thought first of the Communists, then the disabled, then Jews, and finally countries conquered by Germany. However, it is also likely that he modified what he said for different audiences, perhaps including other groups, or changing the order depending on his goals. (I am suggesting that there may not be ONE SINGLE master quotation, but several versions used by Niemöller himself.)
In a 6 January 1946 speech delivered for representatives of the Confessing Church in Frankfurt (published in Die deutsche Schuld, Not und Hoffnung, Zurich: Evangelischer Verlag, 1946, pp. 1-19, quotation on pp. 5ff), Niemöller said (translation by Harold Marcuse)[May 31, 2003: I have obtained and scanned the 1946 English translation of this work (that page includes a detailed discussion of a crucial shift in meaning in the translation):

Als Pastor Niemöller ins Konzentrationslager kam, schrieben wir 1937, als das Konzentrationslager aufgemacht wurde, da schrieben wir 1933, und die damals in die Konzentrationslager kamen, waren Kommunisten. Wer hat sich darum gekümmert? Wir haben es gewußt, es stand in den Zeitungen. Wer hat die Stimme erhoben, etwa die Bekennende Kirche? Wir haben gedacht: Kommunisten, diese Religionsgegner, diese Christenfeinde - "soll ich meines Bruders Hüter sein?" Dann hat man die Kranken, die sogenannten Unheilbaren beseitigt. - Ich erinnere mich eines Gespräches mit einem Menschen, der Anspruch darauf erhob, ein Christ zu sein. Er meinte: Vielleicht ist es ganz richtig, diese unheibaren Menschen kosten den Staat nur Geld, sie sind sich und den andern nur zur Last. Ist es nicht das Beste für alle Teile, wenn man sie aus der Mitte schafft? -- Dann erst ist es an die Kirche als solche herangekommen. Dann haben wir einen Ton geredet, bis er dann in der Öffentlichkeit wieder verstummt ist. Können wir sagen, wir sind nicht schuld? Die Judenverfolgung, die Art und Weise, wie wir die besetzten Länder behandelten, oder die Dinge in Griechenland, in Polen, in der Tschechoslowakei oder in Holland, die doch in der Zeitung gestanden haben. … Ich glaube, wir Bekennende-Kirche-Christen haben allen Anlass, zu sagen: Meine Schuld, meine Schuld! Wir können uns mit der Entschuldigung, es hätte mich ja den Kopf kosten können, hätte ich geredet, nicht herausreden.

Wir haben es vorgezogen, zu schweigen. Ohne Schuld sind wir gewiss nicht, und ich frage mich immer wieder, was wäre geworden, wenn im Jahre 1933 oder 1934 - es muss ja eine Möglichkeit gewesen sein - 14 000 evangelische Pfarrer und alle evangelischen Gemeinden, die es in Deutschland gab, die Wahrheit bis in den Tod verteidigt hätten? Wenn wir damals gesagt hätten, es ist nicht recht, wenn Hermann Göring 100 000 Kommunisten einfach in die Konzentrationslager steckt, um sie umkommen zu lassen. Ich kann mir denken, dass dann vielleicht 30 000 bis 40 000 evangelische Christen um einen Kopf kürzer gemacht worden wären, kann mir aber auch denken, dass wir dann 30-40 000 Millionen [sic] Menschen das Leben gerettet hätten, denn das kostet es uns jetzt.
When Pastor Niemöller was put in a concentration camp we wrote the year 1937; when the concentration camp was opened we wrote the year 1933, and the people who were put in the camps then were Communists. Who cared about them? We knew it, it was printed in the newspapers. Who raised their voice, maybe the Confessing Church? We thought: Communists, those opponents of religion, those enemies of Christians - "should I be my brother's keeper?" Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables. - I remember a conversation I had with a person who claimed to be a Christian. He said: Perhaps it's right, these incurably sick people just cost the state money, they are just a burden to themselves and to others. Isn't it best for all concerned if they are taken out of the middle [of society]? -- Only then did the church as such take note. Then we started talking, until our voices were again silenced in public. Can we say, we aren't guilty/responsible? The persecution of the Jews, the way we treated the occupied countries, or the things in Greece, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia or in Holland, that were written in the newspapers. … I believe, we Confessing-Church-Christians have every reason to say: mea culpa, mea culpa! We can talk ourselves out of it with the excuse that it would have cost me my head if I had spoken out.

We preferred to keep silent. We are certainly not without guilt/fault, and I ask myself again and again, what would have happened, if in the year 1933 or 1934 - there must have been a possibility - 14,000 Protestant pastors and all Protestant communities in Germany had defended the truth until their deaths? If we had said back then, it is not right when Hermann Göring simply puts 100,000 Communists in the concentration camps, in order to let them die. I can imagine that perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 Protestant Christians would have had their heads cut off, but I can also imagine that we would have rescued 30-40,000 million [sic] people, because that is what it is costing us now.
 
In that same book, on. p. 43, Niemöller explained in an interview with a US army chaplain why, while he was in Dachau, he offered to serve in the German navy. You can take his explanation or leave it - it sounds apologetic to me! Here it is:
" Niemöller said he saw three possibilities: 1) if Germany lost the war, it would have been very bad for the country; 2) if the Nazis had won the war, it would have been even worse for Germany; 3) if fighting continued in the hope of pushing the Nazis out of the government and a negotiated peace might have come about. If that last possibility came true, he didn't want to be in prison, but wanted to contribute to the future of his country in freedom. also, his three sons had been drafted into the army, and he felt that in those circumstances a father's place was with his sons. "

On July 3, 1946, in another presentation that he held in Stuttgart, Niemöller said again, in a much longer formulation, something resembling the quotation (extended summary and analysis). The relevant passage begins with his description of his November 1945 visit to Dachau with his wife (see my book excerpt). His wife fainted at the sight of a sign proclaiming that 238,000 people were killed in Dachau between 1933 and 1945 [note: that number was actually an estimate of the number of people who had been imprisoned in the camp; "only" ca. 35,000-40,000 are known to have been killed there]. While his wife fainted at the huge number, the dates were what shocked him:
[p. 19] Hier, du wirst gefragt: "Wo warst du 1933 bis zum 1. Juli 1937?" Und ich konnte dieser Frage nicht mehr ausweichen. 1933 war ich ein freier Mann. 1933 -- in dem Augenblick, dort im Krematoriumshof fiel es mir ein --, ja 1933, richtig: Hermann Göring rühmte sich öffentlich, dass die kommunistische Gefahr beseitigt ist. Denn alle Kommunisten, die noch nicht um ihrer Verbrechen willen hinter Schloss und Riegel sitzen, sitzen nun hinter dem Stacheldraht der neu gegründeten Konzentrationslager.
[...]
[p. 20] Als Christ hätte ich 1933 wissen dürfen und wissen müssen dass aus jedem dieser Menschenbrüder -- mochte man sie Kommunisten heissen oder sonstwie -- Gott in Jesus Christus mich fragte, ob ich ihm nicht dienen wollte. Und ich habe diesen Dienst verweigert

[p. 19] Now, you're being asked: "Where were you from 1933 until July 1, 1937?" And I couldn't avoid this question any more. In 1933 I was a free man. 1933 -- at that moment I realized --, yes, 1933, indeed: Hermann Göring bragged publicly that the communist danger was eliminated. Because all communists who weren't already under lock and key because of their crimes, were now sitting behind the barbed wire of the newly established concentration camps.
[...]
[p. 20; reference to Matthew 25] As a Christian I should have and must have known that from each of these fellow human beings -- be they called Communists or whatever -- God in Jesus Christ was asking me whether I would serve him. And I refused this service.

I am still obtaining other published versions of the speeches and sermons Niemöller gave during that time (updates added in the next section, below), since I think the famous quotation evolved in them.

In May 1941 the B'nai Brith publication National Jewish Monthly published an article about Niemoeller by Leo Stein, who had been imprisoned with him in Sachsenhausen. The famous quotation is not to be found there, either, although one can see that the thought processes that led to it were already present in 1941! I have scanned and made the entire text of the May 1941 National Jewish Monthly article on Niemoeller available.

Niemöller's published speeches and sermons, 1946-54 (back to top)

Here is a list of published speeches Niemöller gave around the same time (based on the online version of the Biographisch-Bibliographischen Kirchenlexikon at www.bautz.de/bbkl/, with additions from the research libraries database RLIN, June 2002). As I obtain these materials, I add my comments, analysis and links to my longer discussions.

Dachau Sermons, translated by Robert H. Pfeiffer. New York/London, Harper & Brothers [c1946] vii., 97 p. [UCSB: BX8066.N47 D3]

Of Guilt and Hope, title pageÜber die deutsche Schuld, Not und Hoffnung [6 Jan. 1946] , Zollikon-Zürich 1946; [also French, Dutch, English editions:][excerpted above]
Of Guilt and Hope. [Tr. by Renee Spodheim] New York, Philosophical Library [1947] 79 p. 21 cm. According to a short announcement in the New York Times on Aug. 5, 1947, this translation was withdrawn from circulation by the Philosophical Society after it became known that Niemoeller may have supported the Nazis as early as 1924.
Detailed analysis of the relevant passage, added May 31, 2003.

Zur gegenwärtigen Lage der evangelischen Christenheit. Tübingen-Stuttgart, Furcheverlag [1946] 24 p. [RLIN: NYPL]
also in Reden 1945-54, 43ff. (excerpt Oct. 2002) On p. 48: "Wenn wir erkannt haetten, dass in den Kommunisten, die ins Konzentrationslager geworfen wurden, der Herr Jesus selber gefangen dalag und nach unserer Liebe und Hilfe Ausschau hielt, wenn wir gesehen hätten, dass beim Beginn der Judenverfolgung der Herr Christus es war, der in den geringsten unserer menschlichen Brueder verfolgt und geschlagen und umgebracht wurden, wenn wir da zu ihm gestanden ... hätten, ich weiss nicht, ob Gott uns dann nicht beigestanden hätte und ob dann nicht das ganze Geschehen einen andern Lauf hätte nehmen müssen. Und wenn wir mit ihm [sic] in den Tod gegangen waeren, ob es dann nicht bei einigen zehntausend Opfern geblieben wäre? Ich bin überzeugt, ein Chamberlain und ein Daladier hätten danach Hitler keinen Glauben mehr geschenkt, und der ganze Kreig mit seinen dreissig und mehr Millionen Opfern hätte nicht zu kommen brauchen."

Die Erneuerung unserer Kirche, München 1946; in: Reden 45-54, p. 19. No exact date is given for this sermon. I have a photocopy of the original, and it contains nothing close to the quotation. However, in light of the discussion whether MN included the Catholics (Littell, Zerner, see below), one passage indicates he thought primarily of persecuted minorities (Catholics were no minority in Germany), regardless of the variant of belief in Christ they professed. On p. 9 MN writes as part of his description of his Nov. 1945 return-to-Dachau experience:

Gott fragte mich ja nicht, wo ich von 1937 bis 1945 gewesen war, sondern wo ich von 1933 bis 1937 war. Von 1933 bis 1937 hatte ich keine Antwort. Haette ich vielleicht sagen sollen: Ich war ein tapferer Bekenntnispfarrer in jenen Jahren, ich habe ein Wort riskiert und schliesslich Freiheit und Leben riskiert? Aber danach fragte mich Gott nicht. Gotte fragte: Wo warst du von 1933 bis 1937, als hier Menschen verbrannt wurden? Das waren nicht meine christlichen Brueder, die dort verbrannt wurden, das waren Kommunisten, ernste Bibelforscher usw. Darum hatte ich mich nicht gekuemmert . God didn't ask me where I was from 1937 to 1945, he asked me where I was from 1933 to 1937. From 1933 to 1937 I didn't have an answer. Maybe I should have said: I was a brave pastor of the Confessing Church in those years, I risked speaking critically and thus risked freedom and my life? But God didn't ask me about all that. God asked: Where were you from 1933 to 1937, when human beings were being burned here? Those weren't my Christian brothers, who were burned there, those were Communists, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. That's why I didn't do anything.

Wir rufen Deutschland zu Gott: Eine Rede. [Luton]: [Dragon Press Ltd.], [1946]. 23 p. [RLIN: Yale](not in Reden 45-54)

Reden 1945-1954. Darmstadt : Stimme-Verlag, 1958. [RLIN: IISH, UPenn] (exceprts Aug-Sept. 2002)
p. 43: see above, Zur gegenwärtigen Lage der evangelischen Christenheit
p. 87: May 46 Marburg, see below.
p. 103: "1848-1948: Nur Erinnerung -- oder mehr?" MN talks about 100 years of Marx' Communist Manifesto
p. 142 "Das Bekenntnis der Kirche" in Stimme der Gemeinde, 6/1949. 148 "Was hat nicht seit 1945 die sog. Denazifizierung angerichtet! Es war die grosse Gelegenheit zur Selbstrechtfertigung fuer die Verfolgten von gestern. Aber zugleich war es auch die fluchbeladene Saat neuen Hasses. Und nun fuehlen sich die einstigen Verfolger wider als die Verflogten, rechtfertigen sich selber und trachten danach, ihren einstigen Opfern die Schuld zuzuschieben. Und doch sind sie beide--Verfolger und Verfolgte von gestern, Verfolgte und Verfolger von heute--elende Menschen, denen nur einer helfen kann, wenn wir uns mit unserer Schuld zu seiner Gnade fluechten und ihn als den Heiland bekennen." Oben auf S. 150 sagt N., dass Christus auch fuer die Kommunisten gestorben ist. (so he was clearly NOT an anti-communist at this time, as one writer has claimed, but exactly the opposite!).
p. 191 "Die Krise der Zeit und die christlich Verantwortung" (Copenhagen, 5 Nov. 1951): nothing like the quote, but he's (rhetorically?) exaggerating the number of victims and thinking about World War III: (p. 194): "Ein unerklaerliches, unheimliches Geschehen, und es kann doch nicht rueckgaengig gemacht werden, weil ein paar hundert Millionen Leichen, Menschenleichen im Wege liegen! -- Wie war das moeglich? -- Und schon wieder reden Menschen von einem weiteren, dritten Weltkrieg, und schon wieder suchen Menschen nach Menschenmaterial, um diesen Krieg zu fuehren, nach Menschenopfern, ..."
p. 209 "Wege und Grenzen christlicher Solidaritaet" (Stimme der Gemeinde, 6/1952). Starts with the 1945 Schuldbekenntnis, talks about the Bekennende Kirche as a "geschlossene Gesellschaft," bible quotes, but not the quotation we want.
p. 219 "Von der politischen Verantwortung des Christen in der heutigen Welt" (Geneva, 24 Nov. 1952). Mostly an abstract discussion of biblical passages, about West German rearmament and the "18 million German Menschen behind the iron curtain," and 9 million Heimatvertriebene in West Germany--they need our solidarity. Nothing close to the quotation.
p. 229 "Eindruecke aus Indien" (Stimme der Gemeinde 2/1953): he was clearly impressed by Gandhi.
p. 253 "Unser Volk unter den Voelkern" (Hamburg Kirchentag, Aug. 1953): very interesting talk, lots about meaning of "Volk" and special obligations of Germans, but nothing close to our quotation.
p. 279: "Die gemeinsame Verantwortung der evangelischen Kirchen in der Welt" (Speyer, 20 April 1954). Not here, either, but he does imply that Protestants should stick up for those people being defamed as communist (p. 281): "Fuer den Protestantismus macht es auch keinen Unterschied, ob der Mensch, dessen Freiheit bestritten wird und deshalb geschuetzt werden muss, die gleichen oder etwa abweichende Ansichten und Ueberzeugungen vertritt: der Protestantismus als solcher weiss sich dem Menschen als solchem verpflichtet, unabhaengig von dem Inhalt seines Glaubens, seines Gewissens, seiner Ueberzeugung ..."
He then criticizes and calls to resist "politischer Totalitarismus" like that of Senator McCarthy.

Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein. 6 Predigten, München 1946, 60 pages;
From the publisher's ad in Wilhelm N's Macht vor Recht (1952): "Die Themen der Schuld und der inneren Heimatlosigkeit und Ratlosigkeit nach dem Zusammenbruch klingen hier auf und werden in vollmächtigen Antworten geklärt."
In this collection of six sermons from Dec. 1945 to Jan. 1946 MN does single out Jehovah's Witnesses as positive examples for their principled stance against serving in the army. See my detailed description and discussion, with excerpts. (added Jan. 2004)

An die Göttinger Studenten. Rede, gehalten auf Einladung der ev. Studentengemeinde am 17. Januar 1946 zu St. Jacobi in Göttingen, Göttingen 1946; [RLIN: Harvard] us-israel.org claims MN first used the quotation as an answer to a student's question, so the discussion after this might be relevant. (quoted in Wilhelm Niemöller's 1952 book)[ordered ILL 10/15/03-Harvard, the only supplier, will not loan this][2006: I have a photocopy of this, and the quotation is not developed in it]

Ansprache in der Neustädter Kirche in Erlangen am 22. Januar 1946, Dortmund 1946 (auch in: Die Neue Zeitung Nr. 13 v. 15.2.1946); [UCSB: DD232.5 .N481 microfilm: 1945:Oct.-1949:July (5 reels)]

Not und Aufgabe der Kirche in Deutschland. Vortrag in Zürich, Großmünster, 7. März 1946, hrsg. im Benehmen mit dem Schweizerischen Hilfswerk für die Bekennende Kirche in Deutschland von den ökumenischen Kommissionen für Kriegsgefangene und Flüchtlinge, Genf 1946 (auch in: Flugblätter der Bekennenden Kirche 46/3, Stuttgart 1946);

The Spanish Wikiquote Niemoeller page attributes the quote to an Easter 1946 sermon in Kaiserslautern: "Martín Niemöller, su autor, menciona que no se trataba originalmente de un poema, sino de un sermón en la semana santa de 1946 en Kaiserslautern, Alemania “¿Qué hubiera dicho Jesucristo?”. [Martin Niemöller, its author, mentions that it was not originally a poem, but part of a sermon on Easter of 1946 in Kaiserslautern, Germany "What would Jesus Christ say?"] This is probably an incorrect reference to the 1976 publication mentioned below, in which Niemöller himself incorrectly dates the quotation to 1974.
That Wikiquote page also mentions that the quotation is sometimes (esp. in Spanish) falsely attributed to the Marxist German poet & playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), a claim several readers of this page have confirmed.
However, even if the Niemöller quotation is somewhat Brechtian, since Brecht was himself a communist, he would not have included the Communists in the groups, so I think that that origin can safely be ruled out.
Still, a poem Brecht published in 1927, Liturgie vom Hauch [Liturgy of Breath], has a similar theme: an old woman dies of hunger because the military ate all of her bread, then a doctor certifies her death and she is buried, ensuring her silence. A single man comes and protests, then a policeman clubs him to death. Then 3 bearded men come and protest until they are shot. Then many men come to speak with the military, which answers with machine guns. Finally a red bear (allegory of Russian communism?) comes and eats up the birds. The birds are a reference to the refrain after each meeting: 'Then the little birds in the forest fell silent / Above all treetops is quiet / In all peaks you feel / Barely a breath.' After the bear's entrance the refrain changes: 'Then the birds were no longer silent / Above all treetops is unrest / In all peaks you feel / Now some breath.' Full German text of Liturgie vom Hauch.

Die politische Verantwortung des Christen im akademischen Stand : Vortrag gehalten auf Einladung der evangelischen Studentengemeinde vor Studierenden der Philipps-Universität zu Marburg an der Lahn am 4. Mai 1946 / Martin Niemöller. Giessen : W. Schmitz, 1946. 23 p. [RLIN: Yale, Harvard] Also in Reden 45-54, 87ff, from which the passage below is quoted:

97f: "Hier gruendet unsre christliche Schulderkenntnis im Blick auf das, was unter uns geschehen ist. Wir haben den Herrn Christus nicht erkannt, als er in Gestalt des leidenden Bruders in unser Leben trat. Ich habe ihn weder erkannt, als er als Kommunist ins Lager gesteckt wurde, ich habe ihn nicht erkannt, als er als unheilbar Kranker gemordet wurde, noch habe ich ihn erkannt, als er in den armen Opfern seines eigenen Volkes [eine Anspielung, dass Christus Jude war] vergast und verbrannt wurde. Hier bin ich schuldig geworden an meiner ganz persoenlichen Verantwortung und kann mich nicht entschuldigen, weder vor Gott, noch vor den Menschen." Here is the basis of our Christian recognition of guilt in consideration of what happened. We did not recognize the Lord Christ when he came into our lives in the form of a suffering brother.
I didn't recognize him when he was put in the camp as a Communist, nor did I recognize him, when he was murdered as an incurably ill person, nor did I recognize him, when he was gassed and burned as the poor victims of his own people [probably an allusion to the fact that Christ was Jewish]. Here I became guilty in my very personal responsibility and I cannot excuse myself, neither before God, nor before humanity.

Thus in these early texts (Jan-May 1946) MN spoke of the Communists, the disabled, and the Jews, in that order. He also sometimes (but not always) mentioned Jehovah's Witnesses.

  1. Der Weg ins Freie. Vortrag in Stuttgart am 3. Juli 1946, Stuttgart 1946.
    This was NOT the origin or the famous quotation, as claimed on two excellent sites (photo.net; scrapbookpages.com).
    See my detailed analysis and discussion. Excerpts from this book are also in Reden 45-54, pp. 19-23.
  2. Die Brücke über den Abgrund. Wort am 6. Juli 1946 in der Johanniskirche zu Saarbrücken, Saarbrücken 1946;
  3. Was Niemöller in Amerika wirklich sagte. Eröffnungsansprache auf der Tagung des Federal Council of Churches am 4. Dezember 1946 in Seattle (Flugblätter der Bekennenden Kirche Nr. 7), Stuttgart 1947.
    Jan. 2003: I have a copy of this, and it does NOT contain the quotation, or anything resembling it.
  4. M.N.antwortet seinen Freunden, Bielefeld 1947 (auch in: Amtsblatt der Bekennenden Kirche Hessen-Nassau Nr. 3 v. 20. Sept. 1947);
  5. Gedanken zur europäischen Lage, in: Amtsblatt der EKD 1, 1947, 101-106;
  6. Zur gegenwärtigen Aufgabe der evangelischen Christenheit: Predigt über 1. Johannes 4, 9 - 14. Salzburg: Rorschach; München: Friedensverlag, 1947. 32pp. Series title: Worte zur Zeit; 1 [RLIN: Swiss National Library]
  7. Das Wort des Bruderrates der Ev. Kirche in Deutschland zum politischen Weg unseres Volkes. Auslegung i.A. des Bruderrates verfaßt von Joachim Beckmann, Hermann Diem, M.N. und Ernst Wolf (Flugblätter der Bekennenden Kirche Nr. 9/10), Stuttgart 1948;
  8. Das christliche Zeugnis inmitten der Welt. Ansprache am 26. August 1948 in Amsterdam, in: EvTH 8, 1948/49, 123-129 (unter dem Titel »Das christliche Zeugnis in der Welt« auch in: ThLZ 73, 1948, 519-524);
  9. Fritz Müller-Dahlem, in: Wilhelm Niemöller (Hrsg.): Lebensbilder aus der Bekennenden Kirche, Bielefeld 1949, 74-80;
  10. "Meine Reise nach Moskau," in: Der Spiegel v. 16. 1. 1952, 13-15;
  11. Bekennende Kirche: Festschrift zum 60. Geburtstag [1952] von Martin NIEMÖLLER (publisher's ad)
  12. Für oder gegen Christus - die Entscheidungsfrage des deutschen Arbeiters. Vortrag vom 18. September 1953, Duisburg o.J.;
  13. "Das Vermächtnis des deutschen Widerstandes," in: Günther Weisenborn (Hrsg.): Der lautlose Aufstand. Bericht über die Widerstandsbewegung des deutschen Volkes 1933-1945, Hamburg 1954, 11f.; 4. Aufl. 1974, 13 ff. (auch in: Ihr Gewissen gebot es. Christen im Widerstand gegen den Hitlerfaschismus, Berlin [Ost] 1980, 391 ff.);
  14. "Der Christ darf nicht zu spät kommen": Rundbrief. Berlin : Christlicher Arbeitskreis für den Frieden, [1955?] [4] p. [RLIN: International Institute of Social History]
  15. Herr, wohin sollen wir gehen? Ausgewählte Predigten, München 1956;
  16. "Der Nächste in seiner Bedeutung für das menschliche Zusammenleben," in: Antwort. Karl Barth zum 70. Geb., hrsg. von Ernst Wolf, Charlotte von Kirschbaum, Rudolf Frey, Zollikon-Zürich 1956, 661-665.
  17. Prophet dieser Zeit: Erinnerung an Martin Niemöller, herausgegeben von Wolfgang Erk. 1. Aufl. Stuttgart: Radius-Verlag, c1984. 98 p. [RLIN: LC, IISH, NYPL, Yale Divinity]
  18. AUDIOVISUAL. Brown, George, designer. "First they came for the Jews". Beelddocument = Visual document. (Leeds : s.n.) [picture postcard, undated] [RLIN: International Institute of Social History]
  19. "First they came for the Jews..." : the legacy of pastor Niemoeller / Author Rothery, Tim. London: Minority Rights Group, 1991. 7 p. + poster and postcard. [IISH]
  • Here is an intriguing reference from RLIN: Author: Niemöller, Martin, 1892- Title: [First they came...]. Publisher: [United States : s.n., 1986-1994]. Source: Exile in the Fatherland 1986, p. viii. Source: Christian Century Dec. 14, 1944, p. 1207. Description: [2] p. ; 28 cm. Related Titles: Two versions of famous Martin Niemöller quotation, one from introduction to Exile in the Fatherland (1986); one from Christian Century, Dec. 14, 1944, p. 1207. Subjects: Niemöller, Martin,--1892---Quotations. Libraries: Hebrew Union College (Ohio) [CC=UCSB AP1 .C5]
  • In an interview published in the following book, p. 69f, MN himself answered a question about the quotation:
    Niemöller : was würde Jesus dazu sagen? Eine Reise durch ein protestantisches Leben; ein Film Bilder-Lesebuch von Hannes Karnick und Wolfgang Richter.
    Published: Frankfurt am Main : Röderberg, c1986.
    Physical Details: 167 p. : chiefly ill. ; 25 cm.
    Location: Princeton Theological Seminary
    PTSS BX4827.N53 N53 1986 [ILL received 10/2004]--pages scanned, need to upload.
I would be grateful for any assistance--please e-mail me your research results! <marcuse@history.ucsb.edu>

Other discussions of the origins of the quotation (back to top) [updated 11/22/07]

  1. Ruth Zerner, "Martin Niemoeller, Activist as Bystander: the oft-quoted Reflection," in: Marvin Perry and Frederick Schweitzer (eds.), Jewish-Christian Encounters over the Centuries: Symbiosis, Prejudice, Holocaust, Dialogue (New York: Peter Lang, 1994), 327-340. [back to reference about Catholics, above]
    • I haven't prepared an online version of Zerner's article, but I offer this assessment of it:
      This is a sophisticated discussion of the origin of the quotation, but it appears that Ms. Zerner doesn't know German, and did not attempt to trace the quotation in older published sources. Her main sources are a letter written by Sibylle Niemoeller von Sell (Martin's second wife) to Ingeborg Godenschweger, a staff member of the German Information Center in New York City, dated March 14, 1986. Apparently Ms. Godenschweger was trying to confirm the origin of the quotation after Martin's death. Zerner also conducted phone conversations with Franklin Littell in 1990, and with "Brigitte Johannesson, the only surviving daughter of Martin and Else Niemoeller," in 1991. Both say that Niemöller used this quotation first in English speaking countries. Littell dates the quotation from Niemöller's trip to the US right after World War II; Brigitte Johnnesson thinks he used it first in England in the early 1960s, although it might have been at any time between 1955 and 1969, according to her. Littell, Johannesson, and Sibylle Niemöller all think that Martin Niemöller never included Catholics in the quotation.
      The dating to the US trip in 1946 sounds reasonable to me [Marcuse], since the similar statements made by Niemöller since early 1946 in Germany logically precede the pithy, poetic formulation. In any case, the well-known version appeared before 1954 and was also known in Germany by that time, as the use by Milton Mayer's interloqutor indicates.
  2. Drew Kadel disputed Zerner's assessment, in a 1996 article critiqued by John Conway in the Aug. 1997 Association of Contemporary Church Historians Newsletter [paragraph breaks added]:
  3. "Niemoller's most famous quotation: "First they came for the Communists . . . "
    In the June issue of this Newsletter, I drew attention to an article by Ruth Zerner on this subject in the book "Jewish-Christian Encounters". Drew Kadel of the Burke Library, Union Theological Seminary, New York has now sent me a response he published in the Journal of Religious and Theological Information, Vol 2 (2) 1996, which disputes Zerner's findings.

    Instead, Kadel asserts, this quotation was probably first made during the Cold War of the 1950s, and did not include any reference to Jews. He bases this claim on his view that the purpose was to point to the failure of organised groups to co-operate together in resisting evil. Hence the inclusion of the Communists, Socialists and the Trades Unions, but also the omission of the Jews who were in no position to mobilize resistance. He believes the quotation stems from the time of Niemoller's active opposition to Adenauer's anti-Communist and pro-armament policies, i.e. any time between 1950 and 1959.

    He therefore disputes Franklin Littell's long-held view that this quotation was first and frequently used during Niemoller's visits to the United States in 1946-7. Littell recalls conversations with the staff member of Church World Service at the time, Marlene Maerten, affirming this earlier date. Kadel dismisses this as the "somewhat equivocal report of an eyewitness many years after the fact (which) should not be regarded as entirely authoritative". Littell, he avers, only put his view in writing in 1986 i.e. "forty years after Niemoller's American tour - a longer lapse of time than between the crucifixion and the writing of Paul's epistles". But Kadel himself blatantly claims as his authoritative source a letter from Niemoller's daughter written in 1991!

    To be sure Kadel is right in saying that such famous and evocative quotations take on a life of their own, and get adapted and adopted for different purposes. But the fact that they have not (yet) found written documentation from the 1940s does not prove Littell and Zerner's view incorrect. As a librarian, Kadel should know that just because a book is not on the shelf does not mean it doesn't exist. Furthermore I find Zerner's explanation of the saying's origins more convincing, i.e. that Niemoller listed the Nazis' victims in the order in which they were attacked. First the Communists, then the Socialists and the Trades Unions, and then the Jews. This also explains the omission of the Catholics whom Niemoller always believed had compromised any possible resistance by signing the Concordat. (It is all the more curious to find the Catholics included on posters and cards being sold at the U.S.Holocaust Memorial Museum!)

    Niemoller emerged from seven years of concentration camp deeply impressed by the sufferings of those oppressed by the Nazis, and hence it was only to be expected that he should mention them in his immediate post-war speeches. Even though he had earlier held traditional anti-Judaic prejudices, his experiences in prison opened his eyes to the enormity of the Nazi antisemitic persecution, as clearly proved by the Kristallnacht, the news of which shocked even the inmates of Sachsenhausen. In my view, identification with the victims, and regret at the indifference of the bystanders, rather than the need to organise political resistance in the 1950s, was the main purpose of this quotation. JSC [John Conway]"

  4. Franklin Littell, "First they came for the Communists..." in: Christian Ethics Today, vol. 3, no. 1 (February 1997); on-line version (updated May 2001; Oct. 2013 note: now available at the internet archive from Jan. 2003 to Nov. 2010; also published on mojowire.com in 2005/06). Littell writes:
  5. After the war, active in international church affairs, he made preaching trips across the United States. At that time he brought the message of concern for others, often driving the point home with a confession of his own blindness when the Nazi regime rounded up the communists, socialists, trade unionists, and, finally, the Jews. The quotation is now famous, but often in corrupted form.

    In a recent bulletin of the Social Studies School Service, a 23" by 16 1/2" poster is advertised for $4.95. It begins, "First they came for the Jews...." A beautiful new folder from Yad Vashem, featuring "The World Center for Teaching the SHOAH," has the Niemoeller statement on page 2 as the banner opening; it uses the same corrupted form. An educational video on skinheads and other racist extremists, produced by Jansen Associates, jumbles the sequence of Niemoeller's warning and adds "then they came for the Roman Catholics, and I didn't protest...." In other freely invented materials, we read "Then they came for the gays, and I didn't protest...."

    The latter corruption of the text was never seen by Niemoller: he died before homosexual exhibitionism [note by hm: I apologize for Prof. Littell's bigoted choice of words--so much for him understanding what Niemöller meant!] became a public spectacle [ouch!]. But when we asked him years ago about the addition of the Roman Catholics, he said, "I never said it. They can take care of themselves." (Not particularly friendly, perhaps, remembered today in the modern climate of Catholic/Protestant rapprochement; but the report has the virtue of telling the truth.) When asked about the re-arranged order, "First they came for the Jews...," he simply laughed and passed it off.

    There is a more than pedantic point to insisting that the Niemoeller quotation be truthfully used, if at all. Through the texts corrupted to promote special interests, literally millions of school children and also adults are being taught lies about the Holocaust. The damage is not as serious, perhaps, as the steady infiltration of "Holocaust revision" (i.e., denial). But it does help to create an atmosphere of playing fast and loose with the facts through intellectually dishonest and self-serving manipulation of the text.

    Niemoeller knew the sequence of Nazi assault, because he was there. Any average student of the third Reich should be able to give the record accurately; it is a shocking display of professional incompetence when materials that are supposed to be vetted by specialists can be issued that are simply contrary to the record. Even if a corrupt text appears in print, whether published by an ignoramus or a special pleasure, the literate reader should catch the mistake.

    As Martin Niemoeller gave the message, it was true to the facts. "They" didn't "come for the Catholics" any more than "they" came for the Protestants. The true historical sequence, which Niemoeller of course followed, was communists, socialists, trade unionists, and Jews. The assault on the Jews was the culmination of the Nazi dictatorship's ruthless elimination of targeted communities and individuals.

    Martin Niemoeller's message, in its true form, carries a powerful moral impact. Telling the story and drawing the lessons of the SHOAH are weakened, not strengthened, when carelessness or self-indulgence permits a corrupted text to be widely disseminated. The true sequence, which culminates the Nazi genocide of the Jews, is both literally and morally stronger than the corrupt forms that are becoming now widespread:

    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.

    Updated Sunday, May 27, 2001

    • Assessment of Littell by Marcuse: Littell cites no sources in this article, but as Zerner notes, he claims to have himself heard Niemöller say the quotation in the late 1940s. I agree with Littell's dating, and think that the historical ordering culminating with the Jews makes sense, although I cannot confirm it at this time. Also, although I am inclined to agree that Niemöller did not include the Catholics, I cannot agree that Littell's listing of groups is in any way definitive. And I hope Niemöller would not have agreed with Littell's homophobic slurs!
  6. The on-line Jewish Virtual Library page (at us-israel.org) draws on Sibylle Niemoeller, but without citing the exact source. It claims laconically: "This quotation is often cited incorrectly. The exact phrasing was supplied by Sibylle Sarah Niemoeller von Sell, Martin Niemoeller's second wife. The remark was made in reply to a student's question, 'How could it happen?'" [page viewed Jan. 2003] [Sibylle Baroness von Sell published her autobiography in German in 1992 and 1996, which was published in English translation in 2012: Crowns, Crosses, and Stars: My Youth in Prussia, Surviving Hitler, and a Life Beyond (Purdue press w/ abstract; $23 at amazon.com). This is worth looking at. When did she meet Martin? Does she mention the quotation?]
    • Assessment by Marcuse: This comment appears to be based on Niemöller's response to the question in 1974, which he mentioned in an interview published in 1976. At that time he may not have remembered having used the quotation decades earlier, much less which groups he had included back then. So that version is "definitive" only in the sense that it is by Niemöller himself. It indicates the groups he included in the 1970s, not those that he included when he originally formulated the quotation in the mid to late 1940s.

Other versions of the quotation on the web (back to top)

  • Snapshot of a version used on a poster at a 2002 peace march in San FranciscoSnapshot taken at a 2002 peace march in San Francisco (image at right)
  • Modifications of the quotation, on Jerry Gordon's "Europe: A 20th Century Journey" site at Liverpool College
    his version (after Novick, Holocaust in American Life): Communists, Social Democrats, trade unionists, Jews, me
    Time magazine: Jews, trade unionists, Catholics, me
    Al Gore: Communists, Social Democrats, Catholics, Jews, me
    US Holocaust memorial museum: Social Democrats, trade unionists, Jews, me
    [note: Gordon quotes an Apr. 15, 2000 article in The Guardian that claims that in "Dachau, Belsen and Buchenwald, only a minority of the prisoners were Jews". This is at best misleading. Certainly in Belsen, and probably in Dachau, a large proportion, probably even a majority of the inmates were indeed Jews. This probably goes for Buchenwald as well. One must include the Nov. 1938 mass arrests, the massive post-1943 use of Jewish prisoner labor, and the evacuations to these camps at the end of the war.]
  • Boston Holocaust memorial (with photo and javascript applet): Communists, Jews, trade unionists, Catholics, me
  • Time magazine, 28 August 1989: Communists, Jews, Catholics, me
    reported on a page of fireblade coffeehouse after a query on alt.activism (another contribution to that discussion)
  • Still more versions, collected by Swiss author Peter Meyer on his Serendipity web site
    Jews, communists, trade unionists, me

    New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston

    New England Holocaust Memorial, Boston
    Communists, Jews, trade unionists, Catholics me
  • Congressional Record, 14, October 1968, page 31636: Jews, Catholics, trade unionists and industrialists, me and the Protestant church (source attribution)(cited by Scott Hayes as well)
  • Golden Gate University library has tracked the Congressional Record citation down, and found that a US representative rendered it. According to them, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations gives it as:
    Communists, Jews, trade unionists, Catholics, me
  • Version from Simpson's quotations, quoted at Niemöller's death in 1984. (on Bartleby.com, a reference web site that started as a "great books" site in 1993)
    Jews, Communists, trade unionists, me
  • German version from Georgia Southern University's Dept. of Foreign Languages: Communists, Social Democrats/Socialists, Catholics, me remember.org's version: Communists, Socialists, labor leaders, Jews, me
  • holocaust-history.org: Communists, Socialists, labor leaders, Jews, me
  • The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles gives it as: Jews, Communists, trade unionists, me The Anti-Nazi League (UK): Jews, communists, trade unionists, me
  • US-Israel.org's jsource gives it as: communists, Jews, trade unionists, me
  • The Adult Christianity site has a page collecting various additions in contemporary contexts, for example:
    poor women, hackers, uninsured, drug dealers, Blacks, Latinos, panhandlers, pot smokers, DOS users, …
    original reported as: Communists, Jews, trade unionists, Catholics, me
  • Another "modernized" version (Symbionese liberation army, MOVE in Philly) at syninfo.com [9/01: gone]
  • more links on the debate site discussion list
  • more versions from a Colorado State Univ. peace forum
  • Wathena, Kansas school district English II lesson
  • Spanish version on Venezuelan movement for democracy site:
    Primero, ellos vinieron por los socialistas,
    pero yo no hablé porque no era socialista,
    Después vinieron por los sindicalistas,
    pero yo no hablé porque no era sindicalista,
    Luego vinieron por los judíos,
    pero yo no hablé porque no era judío,
    Al final vinieron por mi y, para entonces...
    ya no quedaba nadie que hablara por mi.

Other discussions of Niemöller (back to top)

  • Harry Reynolds, blog entry, Jan. 10, 2004 (archive copy w/ e-mail introduction & link to published article)

Other Quotations by Niemoeller (back to top)

    • On 25 Jan. 1934, at a meeting in the Reich chancellory, Niemöller said to Hitler:
      "Wir werden nicht aufhören, für unser ganzes Volk wachsam zu sein und niemand, nicht einmal Sie, werden imstande sein, diese Verantwortung uns abzunehmen."
      "We will not stop watching over our entire people, and no one, not even you, will be able to take this responsibility from us."
    • Probably in the 1980s (see poster, above):
      "Wer den Frieden will, muß mit dem Gegner gemeinsam leben wollen. Wir müssen vertrauen wagen. Darum Schluss mit dem Rüsten."
      ('Whoever wants peace must want to live together with their opponents. We have to risk trusting each other. There stop the arms race.')

Biographies and Articles about Niemöller (back to top)
  1. Franz Beyer, Menschen warten: Aus dem politischen Wirken Martin Niemöllers seit 1945 (Siegen, 1952) Wilhelm Niemöller, Martin Niemöller: Ein Lebensbild (Munich, 1952)
  2. Table of contents of W. Niemoeller's 1952 book Macht geht vor RechtTitle image of W. Niemoeller's 1952 book Macht geht vor RechtWilhelm Niemöller, Macht geht vor Recht: Der Prozeß Martin Niemöllers (Munich: Christian Kaiser, 1952)[Univ. of Wisconsin libraries, OCR 6/03].
    Written by MN's brother as a kind of birthday present, this 117 page book summarizes MN's work during the Nazi period, with special focus on his July 1937 trial. See this excerpt from pages 108-110 about MN's mea culpa statements from summer 1945 to his Göttingen speech in January 1946. The Göttingen speech contains a narrative version of the content that developed into the famous quotation.
  3. Dietmar Schmidt, Martin Niemöller (Hamburg, 1959); Pastor Niemöller, trans. from German (1959)
  4. Clarissa Start Davidson, God´s Man: The Story of Pastor Niemoeller (New York, 1959; reprinted 1979)
  5. Marlene Maertens, "Martin Niemöller in den USA," in: Stimme der Gemeinde 1/2(1966)
  6. Encyclopedia Britannica article
  7. James Bentley, Martin Niemöller (1984)
  8. Mathias Schreiber, Martin Niemöller: Mit Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten(available from amazon.de for DM12,90)
  9. US Holocaust Memorial Museum biographical article about Niemöller, and brief article about the quotation. The quotation article says that N. mentioned the Catholics in his speeches of the 1940s; I do not believe that he did. However, since the USHMM includes them in their version of the quotation, they are wont to claim that.
  10. Wolfgang Gerlach, And the Witnesses were Silent: The Confessing Church and the Jews (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2000). According to the USHMM, Gerlach claims on p. 47 that the first time N. expressed regret about his antisemitism was in 1963.
List of Publications by Martin Niemöller (back to top)
  • Was will die Bekennende Kirche? Vortrag, gehalten am 25. September 1934 in Berlin-Zehlendorf, Als Ms. gedr. ([S.l.], 1934).
  • Das Bekenntnis der Vaeter und die bekennende Gemeinde: Zur Besinnung dargeboten .., 2nd ed. (Munchen: Kaiser, 1934).
  • Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel: mit 16 Bildertafeln und 1 Karte (Berlin: Warneck, 1934).
  • Alles und in allen Christus! Funfzehn Dahlemer Predigten (Berlin: M. Warneck, 1935).
  • Dienst der Kirche am Volk (Berlin: Buchholz & Weißwange, 1935).
  • Ein Wort zur kirchlichen Lage (Wuppertal-Barmen: Verl. Unter dem Wort, 1935).
  • From U-boat to Concentration Camp: The Autobiography of M. Niemöller (London, 1936).
  • Die Staatskirche ist da! (Wuppertal-Barmen: Rheinisch-Westf. Gemeindetag, 1936).
  • Ein Briefwechsel statt einer Antwort (Berlin-Steglitz: Eisemann, 1936).
  • From U-boat to Pulpit (Chicago: Willett, Clark & company, 1937).
  • Here Stand I! (Chicago, New York: Willett, Clark & company, 1937).
  • Pastor Niemoller and his creed. (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1939).
  • Martin Niemoller und sein Bekenntnis, 6th ed. (Zollikon: Evangelische Buchhandlung, 1939).
  • Martin Niemöller and Schweizerisches evangelisches Hilfswerk für Bekennende Kirche in Deutschland, Dennoch Getrost; Die Letzten 28 Predigten Des Pfarrers Martin Niemöller Vor Seiner Verhaftung, Gehalten in den Jahren 1936 Und 1937 in Berlin-Dahlem (Zollikon: Verlag der Evangelischen Buchhandlung, 1939). [UCSB: BX8066.N47 D42]
  • The Gestapo Defied, Being the Last Twenty-eight Sermons (London: W. Hodge, 1941).
  • Dachau Sermons (New York: Harper & brothers, 1946).
  • Über die deutsche Schuld, Not und Hoffnung: Ansprache vom 6.1.1946 (Zollikon-Zurich: Evangelischer Verl., 1946).
  • Die Brücke uber dem Abgrund: Wort Martin Niemollers am 6. Juli 1946 in d. Johannis-Kirche zu Saarbrucken (Saarbrucken: Amt d. Bevollmachtigten d. Evang. Kirche d. Rheinprovinz fur d. Saargebiet, 1946).
  • Wir rufen Deutschland zu Gott: Eine Rede ([Luton: Dragon Press, 1946).
  • Der Weg ins Freie (Stuttgart: F. Mittelbach, 1946).
  • Die Erneuerung unserer Kirche (München: Neubau-Verlag, 1946).
  • Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein: sechs Predigten (München: Chr. Kaiser, 1946).
  • Kriegsschauplatz oder Brucke: Ein evangelisches Wort zu der Not der Deutschen (Frankfurt am Mainl: Verl. Neue Presse, 1946).
  • “Ein Interview mit Pfarrer Martin Niemoller,” Mitteilungen aus der Neuen Mädchenschule (1946).
  • Martin Niemöller, De la culpabilité allemande (Neuchatel [etc.]: Delachaux & Niestlé, 1946).
  • An die Göttinger Studenten: Rede gehalten ... am 17. Jan. 1946 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1946).
  • Die politische Verantwortung des Christen im akademischen Stand. Vortrag gehalten auf Einladung der evang. Studentengemeinde vor Studierenden der Philipps-Univ. zu Marburg an d. Lahn am 4. Mai 1946. (GießenÖ Schmitz, 1946).
  • Chapel address, 1947, Jan. 7, 1947.
  • Was Niemöller in Amerika wirklich sagte: Eroffnungsansprache auf der Tagung des Federal Council of Churches, am 4. Dez. 1946 in Seattle-USA (Ubertr. aus d. Engl.), 4th ed. (Stuttgart: Quell-Verlag der Evangelischen Ges., 1947).
  • Visit of Martin Niemoeller. (Toronto, 1947). [ord ill 5/10]
  • Martin Niemöller and Renee Spodheim, Of Guilt and Hope, 1947.
  • Deutschland, Wohin? Krieg Oder Frieden? Rede Vom 17. Januar 1952 in Darmstadt (Darmstadt: Jupiter-Verlag, 1952).
  • Briefe Aus Der Gefangenschaft Moabit (Frankfurt: Lembeck, 1975).
    Martin Niemöller, Carl Ordnung, and Walter Feurich, Was würde Jesus dazu sagen? Reden, Predigten, Aufsätze 1937 bis 1980 (Union Verlag, 1980).

Other excerpted works

  • New York Times index: articles 1933-2004 (also Howard Samuels and "Dear Abby")
  • Sibylle Niemöller-von Sell, Zu neuen Ufern lockt ein neuer Tag: Erinnerungen II (Frankfurt: Ullstein, 1994).
    p. 230: N's second wife describes N's visit to Dachau with his first wife Else in Fall 1945, very much according to Niemoeller's famous sermon about it. She then launches into a tirade against Nestbeschmutzung (soiling the nest) and Bitburg. From there she goes on to write about the family's suffering on some baron's rural property. She doesn't mention anything about Martin's troubles in the US in 1946.
  • Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann e-mailed me the following biographical note about Niemöller-von Sell: [to be added after clarification; 4/21/03; added 3/2/06]:
    • "I was a close friend of Pastor Niemoeller's first wife (killed in Sweden in an automobile accident some years ago [1961]) and am a good friend of his former adm. asst. and second wife Sibylle Niemoeller.
      Mrs Niemoeller lives in the US (near Philadelphia) and has become a practicing observant Jew. She uses the first name Sara[h].
      After WWII Pastor Niemoeller lived in my former home town Wiesbaden and befriended my mother, Claire Guthmann - a concentration camp survivor and the first post WWII president of the Christian-Jewish discussion group.
      Pastor Niemoeller had been pastor of my first post WWII psychiatrist, Dr Anna Mollenhof, formerly of Berlin and a one time member of Niemoeller's church in Dahlem. Dr Mollenhof related to me ca. 1947 that Niemoeller used to mount the cancel [German for pulpit] and extend the Hitler salute to the Dahlem congregation."
    • Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann passed away on November 22, 2004 after a brief illness (memorial page).
    • See also this 4-page biographical interview of Theresienstadt survivor Guthmann Opfermann on about.com. On p.4 she talks about her publications and work in Holocaust education.
  • According to a page at spartakus.schoolnet.uk (link), MN's first wife Else was killed in an automobile accident on Aug. 7, 1961. MN married Sibylle von Sell in 1971.
  • Hans Speier, From the Ashes of Disgrace: A Journal from Germany, 1945-1955 (Amherst: UMass, 1981), p. 69.
    In his entry on Nov. 16, 1950, Speier writes about a conversation in Berlin with French ambassador Francois-Poncet. "To many Frenchmen, Berlin is nothing but a liability, I was told, and the Soviet zone ought to be forgotten, i.e., left to the Communists. Even Pastor Martin Niemöller, who recently wrote to Adenauer that he opposes German participation in Western defense--his letter has been posted by the Communists all over the Soviet zone--was dubbed by these Frenchmen as 'a sincere pacifist,' and warmly applauded. I said a few harsh words about Niemöller. Regardless of his opposition to Hitler, which was rooted in his concern with religious freedom--as a Protestant he signed his letters to the Führer with 'Heil Hitler'--he has always been an ardent nationalist. When he visited the United States in 1946 (upon John Foster Dulles's insistence), I heard him publicly malign the GI's in Germany: 'Look at them chewing gum. They have no military bearing. They could never fight the Russians,' and so on."
    hm note: I have not verified that any of Speier's claims are more than his personal opinion.

Time Magazine Articles (search keywords at Time.com)(back to top)

  • Aug 16, 1937
    The four-year-old struggle between Dictator Hitler and the Confessional Synod, Germany's anti-Nazi Protestant Church, has been a clash between ruthlessness and spunky defiance. Last week, however, the Third Reich tried a Confessional leader in a way that would have brought credit to any Government. Up before an emergency court in Berlin was Rev. Dr. Friedrich ...
    474 words
  • Feb 21, 1938 "Dynamite"--this longer article has an excellent biographical summary
    In Berlin, jittery with continued crisis, opened last week the sedition trial of Rev. Martin Niembller, who during the War served Kaiser Wilhelm II as one of the most indomitable, hellraising U-boat commanders ever to spread high-powered "frightfulness" for the Fatherland. In 1916, young Lieutenant Niemoller set off on the ramshackle U-73 told to do ...
    1459 words
  • Mar 14, 1938
    Sturdily up to the War Ministry in Berlin last week marched a delegation of farmers from East Prussia, "The Hindenburg Country." They urged embarrassed War Ministry officials to do something about 30 East Prussian pastors in jail or concentration camps. "We want to render every possible service to the Führer—in peace time as farmers and ...
    436 words
  • Mar 20, 1939
    In Germany last week, Rev. Martin Niemöller began his second year in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he is confined for refusing to cut his faith to Nazi patterns. In the U. S., The Federal Council of Churches asked its constituents to devote attention to Pastor Niemöller's anniversary. In the Union Church of Bay Ridge (Brooklyn), ...
    104 words
  • May 29, 1939
    By last week most of Hollywood's producers had laid before U. S. exhibitors a tempting menu of cinema fare for the 1 939-40 season (beginning about Aug. 31). Some entrees: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, mighty producing subsidiary of Loew's Inc., promised to spend $42,500,000 on 52 pictures, another $2,500,000 to advertise them. Headliners: Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen ...
    457 words
  • Jul 10, 1939
    In Berlin's suburb of Dahlem, two years ago last week, the Gestapo (secret police) arrested Rev. Martin Niemoller, onetime U-boat commander, took him to Moabit prison. Pastor Niemoller was no Marxist, no pacifist, no libertarian. He had, indeed, been an early supporter of Naziism, and the .bourgeoisie and old army families who made up his ...
    387 words
  • Dec 23, 1940
    Not you, Herr Hitler, but God is my Führer. These defiant words of Pastor Martin Niemoller were echoed by millions of Germans. And Hitler raged: "It is Niemoller or I." So this second Christmas of Hitler's war finds Niemoller and upwards of 200,000 other Christians (some estimates run as high as 800,000) behind the barbed ...
    2550 words
  • Apr 07, 1941
    Catholic, Protestant and Nazi officials in Berlin all issued denials last week that Protestantism's martyr Pastor Martin Niemoller had turned Catholic in prison. Said the head of the Evangelical Church: "I have never received any word of Niemoller wanting to leave Lutheranism." Said a high Catholic prelate: "Niemoller has not applied through any channel for ...
    70 words
  • Aug 25, 1941
    Pastor Martin Niemoller has been transferred from the dread Sachsenhausen concentration camp to some place of detention in Bavaria "where he is much better off," according to a message smuggled past the German censor last week. The heroic leader of Lutheran resistance to Hitler has been held by the Gestapo since 1937. ...
    206 words
  • Jun 18, 1945
    Pastor Martin Niemoller, the one German whom Christians everywhere had respected, shocked a lot of people last week by saying that he had volunteered to serve in Hitler's U-boat fleet. This admission, made to hostile British and U.S. correspondents in Naples, should have surprised nobody. Niemoller was an ace submarine officer in World War I, ...
    411 word
  • Apr 22, 1946
    The best-known churchman in Germany spent the war like a Christian in a concentration camp. The ex-U-boat commander of World War I, Martin Niemoller, of Berlin's weathy, suburban Jesus Christus Church, seemed at times the last spark of Germany's all-but-extinguished soul. When anti-Nazi churchmen organized the Confessional Church in 1934 to fight Hitler's attempts to ...
    In a speech before the Synod, Pastor Niemoller touched the uneasy conscience of many a German churchman. Said he: if Germany's 14,000 pastors had stood together to damn the Nazis in the beginning, they might all have been shot, but their deaths might have opened the eyes of the world and saved at least 35,000,000 lives.
  • Dec 16, 1946
    NEW YORK Eleanor Roosevelt, noting that German Pastor Martin Niemoller had arrived in the U.S. on a lecture tour (see RELIGION), promptly piped: "I understand that Dr. Niemoller . . . was against the Nazis because of what they did to the church, but that he had no quarrel with them politically. ... I cannot ...
    337 words
  • Feb 03, 1947
    Political passions swirled last week around Pastor Martin Niemöller. Was he a democratic hero? His sponsors said he was. An unreconstructed Nazi? His enemies said so. The truth seemed to be that Niemöller was neither: he was not a leader, a thinker, a martyr, a racist or a hypocrite. U.S. opinion had inflated the Niemöller ...
    521 words

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