To start this week, we’re looking at Martin Niemöller, a pastor and former supporter of Adolf Hitler, that was interned in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps.
The quote Niemöller is most associated with is the now classic, “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.”
However, there’s another similar sentiment from Niemöller which goes, “When the concentration camp was opened we wrote the year 1933, and the people who were put in the camps then were Communists. Who cared about them? We knew it, it was printed in the newspapers. Who raised their voice, maybe the Confessing Church? We thought: Communists, those opponents of religion, those enemies of Christians, ‘Should I be my brother’s keeper?’”
“Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables. I remember a conversation I had with a person who claimed to be a Christian. He said, ‘Perhaps it’s right, these incurably sick people just cost the state money, they are just a burden to themselves and to others. Isn’t it best for all concerned if they are taken out of the middle (of society)?’”
“Only then did the church as such take note. Then we started talking, until our voices were again silenced in public. Can we say, we aren’t guilty/responsible? The persecution of the Jews, the way we treated the occupied countries, or the things in Greece, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia or in Holland, that were written in the newspapers I believe, we Confessing-Church-Christians have every reason to say, ‘Mea culpa, mea culpa!’ We can talk ourselves out of it with the excuse that it would have cost me my head if I had spoken out.”
Niemöller survived the camps and died in 1984.
In the end though, when all is said and done, do you still think you’ll be around to say, “Mea culpa?”