.

First they came for the Jews, you see,
And I did not speak out’
Because I wasn’t a Jew (not me!)
I didn’t give a shout.

Then they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out;
Seditious, Marxist Socialists,
Deplorables, no doubt.

Then they came for trade unionists
And I did not speak out;
I watched them wield their iron fists
As I ate sauerkraut.

Then, in time, they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak for me. And now, you see,
There’s no one left

To speak for you.

.

Original text from the German

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.

—Martin Niemöller

.

.

James A. Tweedie is a recently retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He likes to walk on the beach with his wife. He has written and self-published four novels and a collection of short stories. He has several hundred unpublished poems tucked away in drawers.


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13 Responses

  1. Peter Hartley

    James – an unwelcome and inconvenient reminder of something that we all need to keep in mind, involving our own prospective cowardice in face of torture and execution brought home to us so powerfully by the cowardice of Niemöller himself and by the courage strongly evident in his own public admission to it.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      What you say is very true, but it is also true that Niemoller’s opposition to the Nazi take-over of the state churches led to his being imprisoned in concentrations camps for seven years, including Dachau (1938-1945). His regret and repentance concerned his pre-war anti-Semitism, for failing to publicly challenge the Nazi pre-Holocaust suppression of the Jewish people, and for his personal support of Nazi Socialist Nationalism even after his arrest.

      Again, to his credit, was his role in the creation of the Confessing Church’s 1934 Barmen Declaration (the Confessing Church was a large group of Lutheran pastors who asserted the church’s complete independence from State control). The Barmen Declaration was one of the single most brazen, in-your-face public challenges to Nazi claims of absolute authority to come out of pre-war Germany. Those who signed the document either fled the country (like Karl Barth), went into hiding, or were arrested and, in many cases, executed. It is a theological statement well-worth reading. today. It is accessible on-line.

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        It seems that Niemöller was very much more outspoken, and on the face of it had far less to apologise for, than Pope Pius XII who has been very widely accused of sitting on his hands in the face of Nazi atrocities, but for him the pen was mightier than the sword and his views, at least, were unequivocal and very widely known. Where would the papacy be today had he not maintained the neutrality of the Vatican? Perhaps it would no longer exist, but then the RC church could scarcely be in a worse place than it is today thanks in great part to the oh-so-well-intentioned oecumenical labours of his successors.

  2. Norma Okun

    I like the poem because if it does not become personal you are not interested in anything until it happens to you. This is a shame that if we don’t make other people’s feelings like our own we will never understand each other and be for each other. All the three things the poem mentions are man made situations that never had to be. The poem is given structure to a painful matter that can alert people to care more for what is happening around them and far away.

    Reply
  3. Margaret Coats

    The Barmen Declaration, mentioned above by James, is most interesting in not only rejecting state control of the church, but in asserting Christ’s rulership of personal life in every aspect. This has a great deal to say about the relationship of the human person to the state! Also interesting that Barmen identified the Word (which some might be inclined to call the Bible) as Christ himself, whom Barmen theologians call “the world’s only God.” Barmen’s concept of the church is a close approach to Catholic doctrine on the Church. It says that the Church is not subject to the state, but only to the Word and the Spirit, who of course are the second and third Persons of the Trinity. In other words, the Church and the human person are in truth subject to God alone. After the Confessing [Protestant] Church had made this declaration from within Germany, Pope Pius XI in 1937 sent Mit brennender Sorge, the only Catholic encyclical written in German, to be printed in Germany and read in every Catholic church on Palm Sunday. Clear examples of good preaching by Christian pastors in the face of leftist socialism. Nazism is socialist totalitarianism that devalues the human person, and Hitler is on the far left, not the right, in politics.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Thank you, Margaret for your concise summary of the main thrust of the Barmen Declaration. It is this lifting up of God and the sovereign Lordship of Jesus that threatens totalitarian claims on absolute power. That is why Hitler, Lenin, Mao and even Central American despots in the 1980s did (and, in some places, continue to do) all they can to suppress, marginalize, persecute and destroy Christian, Jewish, and–as we see in China–ethnic Muslims and members of other spiritual faith communities (such as Falun Gong). It is historical trivia that the first Soviet constitution promulgated by Lenin gave equal freedom for both the practice of religion and the practice of atheism. He actually believed that if people were given the freedom to cast off the ‘chains” of religion they would do so in favor of atheism. To his surprise, the exact opposite occurred as many people left the Orthodox church and began joining Catholic and Protestant churches (who began actively proselytizing–something that had been forbidden under the Czars. A new constitution was written that allowed the practice of religion but allowed proselytizing only for atheism. Indeed, having a faith in the Lordship of Christ is viewed as treason against the State’s claims to authority in many places. It is so easy to stand back and do nothing when it is “the other guy” getting cancelled.

      I wrote this poem as a reminder that, even with the constitutional guarantee of the right to worship, major national institutions, including universities, business, science and government can (and are) weeding out people of faith and consolidating power among the self-selected, self-proclaimed like-minded, right-thinking people.

      Like the proverbial camel’s nose in the tent or the slow increase in water temperature until the frog is boiled alive, the loss of freedom for any one group in society inevitably threatens the freedom of all. The ACLU used to represent this idealism but they have now become one of the most intolerant, bigoted, and anti-religious organizations in America.

      Who would have thought 50 years ago that people would one day have to sue government to reclaim their right to gather together for worship.

      As Joni Mitchell once sang, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone . . .”

      Reply
      • Norma Okun

        The ACLU in my life let me down. I know a crook claimed himself a “lawyer to defend my family rights” and was a worshipper of cannibalism and child pornography.

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    Niemoller may be lionized for his condemnation of Nazi totalitarianism, and for his later pacifism, but no one seems to remember that in the middle of the Vietnam War he paid an ostentatious visit of homage to the Communist dictator Ho Chi Minh, who was a murderous tyrant like Hitler, and who was at that time carrying out a savage war of aggression against our South Vietnamese ally.

    Ah, sentimental liberalism! How conveniently it forgets things that don’t suit its ideology.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Joseph, you fail to mention that he also was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1966. Certainly a most convoluted honor for a pacifist to accept! Even so, despite his flawed life, there is truth in the words that I have paraphrased.

      If nothing else, his life demonstrates that a desire for “Peace in our time” (as with Chamberlain) may be an ideal goal worth pursuing, even though reality and fallen human nature all too often collaborate to write a different script that leads in other directions.

      Jesus said that his followers are to be “As wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” Some followers lean in one direction and some are more inclined to lean in the other. It is difficult to split the difference and hindsight often reveals that we have not done as well as we had thought or hoped we had done at the time.

      Reply
  5. Margaret Coats

    Peter Hartley, this is an incomplete answer to your second comment above, simply pointing out that Pope Pius XII is known to have quietly saved more Jews than did the rest of the world combined, during the time they were in such grave danger. There has been much controversy about his public position, but of his practical action there remains little doubt. Whether “speaking out” would have accomplished any more is questionable; as you suggest, it may have led to vengeful retaliation that would have accomplished no good for anyone. Regarding the power of his pen, he is very logically supposed to have been the principal author of Pius XI’s 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (“With burning anxiety,” already mentioned above), as he knew both the German situation and the German language better than anyone else in the Vatican.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      And by saying “the time when they were is such grave danger,” I mean the time before Allied military might, the deciding force in the situation, was exercised. After it was exercised, Pius XII apparently exerted beneficial influence regarding treatment of the defeated Italian and German people, which (along with other important influences) helped the Allies avoid some grave mistakes made after World War I.

      Reply

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