Niemoller, Martin


Niemoller, Martin
(1892–1984)
   Niemoller was a leader of the German Evangelical Church (Confessing Church), which opposed the German attempt to Nazify the churches in Germany. In particular, it protested the Aryan Paragraph, which was used to purge converted Jews from positions in the churches. A World War I hero who served as a U-boat commander, Niemoller was ordained as a pastor in 1924. At first, he welcomed Adolf Hitler’s ascension to power, but he quickly became an opponent of the regime. In 1934, Niemoller formed the Pastor’s Emergency League, and in 1937 he assumed leadership of the Confessing Church (Bekennende Kirche). Subsequently, he was arrested on Hitler’s orders for his refusal to capitulate to Nazi intimidation, and incarcerated first at Sachsenhausen and then Dachau, where he was imprisoned for seven years.
   As was the case among many of the leaders in the Confessing Church, Niemoller’s anti-Judentum was grounded in traditional Christian religious prejudice against the Jews. Many Christian clergy in Germany were indifferent to the growing persecution of the Jews. They believed that the Jews, in first rejecting Jesus as the Christ and then crucifying him, had brought their punishment upon themselves. Niemoller and his colleagues opposed the Nazi persecution of Jewish converts to Christianity on the basis that the racial definition was antithetical to Christianity and negated the salvational effects of baptism. Consequently, most of those affiliated with the Confessing Church were reticent in challenging Nazi anti-Semitism but protested the treatment of Jewish converts to Christianity. Niemoller was released from Dachau by the Allies in 1945. Subsequently, he joined other leading German churchmen in issuing the Stuttgart Confession of Guilt (1945), a statement of repentance for their failure to confront the evils of Nazism. A few years later, before an audience of college students in the United States, Niemoller expressed his famous cautionary words: “First they came for the Jews. I was silent. I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists. I was silent. I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists. I was silent. I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me. There was no one left to speak for me.” The quotation adorns the wall of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

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