First they came...

"First they came…"" is a poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

History

An early supporter of Hitler, by 1934 Niemöller had come to oppose the Nazis, and it was largely his high connections to influential and wealthy businessmen that saved him until 1937, after which he was imprisoned, eventually at Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. He survived to be a leading voice of penance and reconciliation for the German people after World War II. His poem is well-known, frequently quoted, and is a popular model for describing the dangers of political apathy, as it often begins with specific and targeted fear and hatred which soon escalates out of control.

Controversy over origin and text

In Spanish-speaking countries the poem has often been erroneously attributed to Bertolt Brecht since the 1970s.Fact|date=February 2008 The poem's exact origin is unclear, and at least one historian has suggested that the poem arose after Niemöller's death. [cite web|author=|url=http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/GERniemoller.htm|title=Martin Niemöller|publisher=Spartus Educational, by John Simkin|accessdate=2006-02-16] This is incorrect, as the poem was published in a 1955 book by Milton Mayer, "They Thought They Were Free", based on interviews he conducted in Germany several years earlier. The quotation was widely circulated by social activists in the United States in the late 1960s. Recent research has traced the sentiments expressed in the poem to speeches given by Niemöller in 1946. [cite web|author=Harold Marcuse|date=September 12, 2000|url= http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/niem.htm|title=Martin Niemöller|accessdate=2006-02-16] Nonetheless, the poem's wording remains controversial, both in terms of its provenance, and the substance and order of the groups that are mentioned in its many versions. While Niemöller's published 1946 speeches mention Communists, the incurably ill, Jews or Jehovah's Witnesses (depending on which speech), and people in occupied countries; the 1955 text, a paraphrase by a German professor in an interview, lists: Communists, Socialists, "the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on," and ends with "the Church."However, as cited by Richard John Neuhaus in the November 2001 issue of First Things, when"asked in 1971 about the correct version of the quote, Niemöller said he was not quite sure when he had said the famous words but, if people insist upon citing them, he preferred this version:

:"In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;

:And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;

:And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;

:And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up."

Poem (1976 version)

Variations

Als sie die Kommunisten geholt haben, habe ich geschwiegen.
- denn ich war ja kein Kommunist.
Als sie die Sozialisten und Gewerkschafter geholthaben, habe ich geschwiegen.
- denn ich war ja keins von beiden.
Als sie die Juden geholt haben, habe ich geschwiegen.
- denn ich war ja kein Jude.
Als sie mich geholt haben, hat es niemanden mehrgegeben, der protestieren konnte.

First they came for the Communists,
- but I was not a communist so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists,
- but I was neither, so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Jews,
- but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out.
And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

Variation of first stanza

Ironically, when the poem was recounted in the United States in the 1950s, the first stanza, referring to communists, was often omitted, due to the rise of McCarthyism and the Red Scare.Fact|date=February 2008

Variation of second stanza

Most poems omit "the sick, the so-called incurables", (known today as the mentally ill) in Niemöller's original writings, a reference to Action T4. "Dann hat man die Kranken, die sogenannten Unheilbaren beseitigt."Fact|date=February 2008

Variation of last stanza

A variant of this poem has the last stanza as "then they came for the Catholics."

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The version inscribed at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. reads:

:First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out - :because I was not a Socialist.

:Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - :because I was not a Trade Unionist.

:Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - :because I was not a Jew.

:Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me.

New England Holocaust Memorial

The version inscribed at the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston, Massachusetts reads:

:They came first for the Communists,:and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

:Then they came for the Jews,:and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

:Then they came for the trade unionists,:and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

:Then they came for the Catholics,:and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

:Then they came for me,:and by that time no one was left to speak up.

"Time"

Another variant was printed in "Time" magazine on August 28, 1989, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the start of World War II. [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,958452-4,00.html Part 2 Road to War] , Time] This version read:

:First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up,:because I wasn’t a Communist.

:Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,:because I wasn’t a Jew.

:Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up,:because I was a Protestant. (See above)

:Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left:to speak up for me.

Posters

The variant found on most English and American posters reads:Fact|date=February 2008

:First they came for the Socialists, and I didn’t speak up,:because I wasn’t a Socialist.

:Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up,:because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.

:Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,:because I wasn't a Jew.

:Then they came for me, and there was no one left:to speak up for me.

There are also versions replacing "and I didn't speak up " with "and I did not protest" or "I did not help".

variation compounded

This a compound of the above variations.

First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.

Don't Let It Happen Here

This one is from the Mingus Big Band's 1999 album "Blues & Politics"... In the beginning of the composition "Don't Let It Happen Here" voice reads:

One day they came and took the Communists, and I said nothing, because I was not a Communist.Then one day they burned the Catholic Churches, and I said nothing, because I was born a Protestant.Then they came and took the Unionists, and I said nothing, because I was not a Unionist.One day they came and took the people of the Jewish Faith, and I said nothing, because I had no faith left.Then one day they came and took me, and I could say nothing, because I was as guilty as they were for not speaking out and saying that we all have a right to freedom...

Other Variation

In addition to the original version, there is a second one in which the Jews are the first group being mentioned.

Mentally Ill

:First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up,:because I wasn’t a Communist.

:Then they came for the sick, the so-called incurables, and I didn't speak up,:because I wasn't mentally ill.

:Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,:because I wasn’t a Jew.

:Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left:to speak up for me

Note that in the 6 January 1946 speech Niemöller specifically mentioned "the sick, the so-called incurables"; see the [http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/niem.htm#order translation by Harold Marcuse]

“Euthanasia” Centers* [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/t4map.html map]

T-4 Euthanasia Program [http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/galen.htm Cardinal Clemens von Galen speech Against Euthanasia] Sunday, August 3 1941

American Journal of Psychiatry January 2006. [http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/163/1/27 "Nazi Euthanasia of the Mentally Ill at Hadamar"] by Rael D. Strous, M.D.

"When Hitler Attacked"

This version was attributed in the "Congressional Record" on October 14, 1968:

: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, I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned. Then, Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church—there was nobody left to be concerned." ["Yale Book of Quotations" (2006) Yale University Press, edited by Fred R. Shapiro.]

Christy Moore - Yellow Triagle

In 1996 folk singer Christy Moore, paraphased the poem in his song " Yellow Triangle " off his album "Graffiti Tongue".

:When first they came for the crimnals I did not speak:Then they began to take the Jews:When they fetched the people who were members of trade unions:I did not speak:When they took the bible students :Rounded up the homosexuals:Then they gathered up the Immigrants and Gypsies:I did not speak :Eventually they came for me:And there was no one left to speak

:Black triangle , Pink triangle:green triangle , Red triangle:Blue triangle , Lilac triangle:And they wore the yellow triangle

Anti-Flag - Émigré

In 2006, the American punk rock band Anti-Flag referenced the poem in the song "Émigré" off their album "For Blood And Empire":

:First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out:Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out.:Next they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out.:And then they came for me!

NOFX - Re-gaining Unconsciousness

In 2003, American punk rock band NOFX paraphased the poem in the song "Re-gaining Unconsciousness" on the album "War on Errorism":

:First they put away the dealers,:keep our kids safe and off the street.:Then they put away the prostitutes,:keep married men cloistered at home.:Then they shooed away the bums, :then they beat and bashed the queers,:turned away asylum-seekers, :fed us suspicions and fears.:We didn't raise our voice,:we didn't make a fuss.:It's funny there was no one left to notice:when they came for us.

False Impression - Bull

In 2002, American alternative band False Impression (band) paraphased the poem in the song "Bull":

:They first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist.:Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.:Then they came for the Catholics, I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.:Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up.

Niyi Osundare - Not my Business

The poet Niyi Osundare wrote the poem "Not my Business" which has strong overtones of Niemoeller's original poem:

They picked Akanni up one morning
Beat him soft like clay
And stuffed him down the belly
Of a waiting jeep.
:What business of mine is it:So long they don't take the yam:From my savouring mouth?

They came one night
Booted the whole house awake
And dragged Danladi out,
Then off to a lengthy absence.
:What business of mine is it:So long they don't take the yam:From my savouring mouth?

Chinwe went to work one day
Only to find her job was gone:
No query, no warning, no probe-
Just one neat sack for a stainless record.
:What business of mine is it:So long they don't take the yam:From my savouring mouth?

And then one evening
As I sat down to eat my yam
A knock on the door froze my hungry hand.
The jeep was waiting on my bewildered lawn
Waiting, waiting in its usual silence.

References

External links

* [http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/niem.htm Niemöller, origin of famous quotation] Harold Marcuse, UC Santa Barbara (2005)
* [http://isurvived.org/home.html#Prologue Niemöller's famous quotation as posted by Holocaust Survivors' Network]
* [http://www.christianethicstoday.com/issue/009/First%20They%20Came%20for%20the%20Jews%20By%20Franklin%20H%20Littell_009_29_.htm First They Came for the Jews Franklin H. Littell]


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