First, they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
TIME Magazine 28th August 1989
The above poem comes from a man who declared that he “would rather burn his church to the ground, than to preach the Nazi trinity of ‘race, blood, and soil.’”
In 1933, Niemoller organised the Pastor’s Emergency League to protect Lutheran pastors from the police. In 1934, he was one of the leading organisers at the Barmen Synod, which produced the theological basis for the Confessing Church, which despite its persecution, became an enduring symbol of German resistance to Hitler.
Rev. Martin Niemoller was protected until 1937 by both the foreign press as well as influential friends in a Berlin suburb where he preached. Eventually, he was arrested for treason. Possibly due to foreign pressure, although Niemoller was found guilty, initially he received only a suspended sentence. He was, however, then almost immediately re-arrested on Hitler’s direct orders. From then on, until the end of WW II, he was held at the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps, narrowly escaping execution toward the end of the war. [From Charles Colson’s Kingdoms in Conflict]
After the war, Niemoller emerged from prison to preach again. He was instrumental in producing the “Stuttgart Confession of Guilt”, in which the German Protestant churches formally accepted responsibility for their complicity in allowing the suffering caused by Hitler’s reign. In 1961, he was elected as one of the six presidents of the World Council of Churches, the ecumenical body of the Protestant faiths.
Niemoller became a pacifist and an advocate of reconciliation. He received the Lenin Peace Prize in 1967, and the West German Grand Cross of Merit in 1971. Martin Niemoller died in Wiesbaden, West Germany on Mar 6, 1984, at the age of 92. [From the Encyclopaedia Britannica].