First They Came

Selected by Dan Clendenin

Martin Niemoller (1892–1984)

First They Came

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.

This poem is ascribed to the German pastor Martin Niemoeller (1892–1984), who protested Hitler’s anti-semite measures in person to the fuehrer, was eventually arrested, and then imprisoned for eight years at Sachsenhausen and Dachau (1937–1945). He once confessed, “It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He is not even the enemy of his enemies.” The poem describes the passivity of German intellectuals as the Nazis purged group after group of targeted people. The poem comes in many slightly different versions, and its exact origin is the subject of debate.