If German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer/Martin Niemöller Had been at Zucotti Park for Occupy Wall Street
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Dietrich Bonhoeffer, August, 1939


Martin Niemöller, as a World War I naval officer

When Mayor Bloomberg’s police came for the moldy, torn, used books,
I was silent,
For I was not a moldy, torn, used book.

When they came for the filthy, used, fast-food containers,
I was silent,
For I was not a filthy, used, fast-food container.

When they came for the smelly, old boots,
I was silent,
For I was not a smelly, old boot.

When they came for the abandoned tarpaulins,
I was silent,
For I was not an abandoned tarpaulin.

When they came for the leftover leaflets,
I was silent,
For I was not a leftover leaflet.

When they came for me,
There was no more garbage left
That could protest.


[Inspired by reader Paul T., at Larry Auster’s blog.]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer/Martin Niemöller/Whomever

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Kommunist.

Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.

Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.

Als sie mich holten, gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte.

When the Nazis came for the Communists,
I was silent,
For I was no Communist.

When they imprisoned the Social Democrats,
I was silent,
For I was no Social Democrat.

When they came for the unionists,
I was silent,
For I was no unionist.

When they came for me,
There was no one left
Who could protest.

During my student days in West Germany (1980-1985), I frequently saw this “poem” on posters on students’ dorm doors. Back then, it was always attributed to leftwing German Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), whom the Nazis hanged on April 9, 1945, in the Flossenbürg concentration camp.

I now see that fans of German Protestant theologian Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), starting with his second wife, Sybil, have claimed since his 1984 death that it was his “poem.” Martin Niemöller started out as a Nazi, and remained so through The War, but converted to either socialism or communism, as soon as The War ended. (Out of one side of his mouth, he said he opposed communism, but out of the other side...) This was a man who always knew what side his bread was buttered on.

The German Wikipedia entry for Dietrich Bonhoeffer does not presently attribute the statement to him, but other sites (here and here) do.

Meanwhile, Niemöller reportedly said that he did not say exactly the words attributed to him, but something like them, and biographies written after his death did not even mention the “poem.”

Historian Harold Marcuse reconstructs the history here.

Apparently, Niemöller made certain remarks shortly after The War in speeches that are similar to the statement, though the groups named changed in different versions. Someone else, likely a communist, then came along, and put it in the form in which it has since become known. Other versions mention the Jews. However, the Communists always come first, suggesting that the statement’s real purpose was to protect Communists.

And what of Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Hard to say. Lefties liked the words, and likely attributed them to him, simply because he was a Lefty. Didn’t you know? All great sayings come from leftists. As lefty guru Jürgen Habermas likes to say, “Der Geist steht links”: “The mind stands on the Left.”

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