From Academic Kids

Rev. Martin Niemöller (January 14, 1892 - March 6, 1984) was a German Lutheran pastor who was an opponent of Adolf Hitler.

He was born in Lippstadt and was a submarine commander in World War I. After the war, he spent some time in the Freikorps. He studied theology and was ordained in 1931, becoming pastor of the Church of Jesus Christ at Dahlem, an affluent suburb of Berlin.

A German nationalist, Niemöller initially welcomed Hitler's rise to power. In his 1933 autobiography From U-Boat to Pulpit, Niemöller called the years of the Weimar Republic "years of darkness" and in an afterword to the book expressed hope that Hitler would bring about a "National Revival". The Nazis' praise for his autobiography helped make it a best-seller in Germany.

By the autumn of 1934, Niemöller's faith in Hitler has collapsed, and he formed the "Confessing Church", a Protestant group that opposed the Nazification of the German Protestant churches, the anti-Christian ideas of certain Nazi leaders, and Nazi racial doctrines.

The Confessing Church explicitly opposed the German Christians, proponents of the single all-embracing State-established "Protestant Reich Church," headed by Hitler-appointed Reichsbischoff Ludwig Müller.

On 8 November 1934, the Confessing Church held a rally of 20,000 at Dahlem, at which one of its leaders, a Reverend Dr. Koch, proclaimed:
We are fighting against the defamation of Christ and true Christianity. There are false prophets abroad in this land preaching the doctrine of blood and soil and racial mysticism, which we reject
—clear allusion to the Nazi Party. Niemöller, at the end of the rally, declared that
it is a question of which master the German Protestants are going to serve, Christ or another.
On Sunday, 27 June 1937, Niemöller's sermon to an overflowing church concluded with
We have no more thought of using our own powers to escape the arm of the authorities than had the Apostles of old. No more are we ready to keep silent at man's behest when God commands us to speak. For it is, and must remain, the case that we must obey God rather than man.

Three days later Niemöller was arrested and after eight months in Berlin's Moabit prison was tried by a Sondergericht, one of Hitler's "special courts" for crimes against the State. Acquitted on the charge of "underhanded attacks against the State", he was convicted of "abuse of the pulpit" and for taking collections. Sentenced to seven months imprisonment, he was released for having already served that time awaiting trial.

As he left the courtroom, Niemöller was placed in "protective custody" by the Gestapo and interned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945. In a letter in 1941 he volunteered to serve again in the German navy (this letter may have been a forgery), but the offer was refused.

After his release in 1945 he was instrumental in the issuance of the Declaration of Guilt by German churches in which they declared their culpability in not opposing Hitler more strenuously. He was president of the Evangelical church in Hess and Nassau from 1947 to 1961, and became president of the World Council of Churches in 1961.

He is most known for a single quotation - "First they came..." - a warning about the consequences not opposing tyranny at the first instances of its rising which has many variants, but are based on his original:

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.

External link

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