6 March marks the day on which Martin Niemöller died in 1984. Niemoller was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian born in Lippstadt, Germany, in 1892. A German Navy and WWI Veteran, Niemöller was a Nationalist and an Anti-Communist who supported Adolf Hitler’s political agenda. After Hitler took power however, Niemöller became disillusioned. He became the leader of a group of German clergymen opposed to Hitler. In 1937 he was arrested and eventually confined in the concentration camps of Sachsenhausen and Dachau. He survived his incarceration and was liberated by the US Army in 1945. From the 1950s on, he was a vocal pacifist and anti-war activist, and vice-chair of War Resisters’ International from 1966 to 1972. In 1961, he became president of the World Council of Churches. He was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1966.
Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for his poetic statement condemning apathy in the face of tyranny–
First 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 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.