What Martin Niemoller Can Teach Us, Part 1

Last week I began this book by Matthew Hockenos. I have read a little about Martin Niemoller, but nothing of depth. A former German Navy officer turned Christian pastor, Niemoller was a complicated man before and after WWII. For many years he was untroubled by Hitler’s nationalism and persecution of minorities. He agreed with thousands of other pastors that minorities and dissenters were anti-Christian and disloyal to Germany. Looking back he realized that in his younger years he was subtly formed by a cultural system that did not consciously despise Jews, but did so subconsciously. He says, “I had no hatred against Jews but this whole atmosphere of noncooperation with the Jews was just that in which everybody grew up.”⁣ (12)

Take that in. It’s how cultural systems work. It’s how family systems work. It’s how ideology works. Subtle. Implicit. Quiet. Formative. ⁣

As Hitler’s empire grew and much genocide was dealt, Niemoller awakened to Christ in a deeper way and saw through Hitler’s rhetoric. He recognized his own nationalistic antisemitism and took a stand against Hitler’s nationalistic empire, influencing a Christian movement of protest. He was imprisoned. Following the war he felt great regret for his naive racist, anti Semitic, nationalistic disposition. Hockenos writes:⁣

“Dachau has opened in March 1933, when the Nazis began incarcerating their enemies, just one month after Hitler came to power. Niemoller has been a free man at that time, a prominent pastor of an influential parish, and he remained at liberty until his arrest in 1937. Imprisoned in a Berlin jail and a concentration camp from 1937 to 1941, Niemoller and other famous camp inmates were tranferred by the Nazis to Dachau in 1941. ‘My alibi accounted for the years 1937-45,’ he told a German audience a few months after he and his wife visited Davhau. ‘But God was not asking me where I had been from 1937 to 1945 but from 1933 to 1945. . . and for those [earlier] years I did not have an answer.'”⁣ (2)

Niemoller later wrote his confession:

“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.”

In the words of my friend Charvalla, “May the past provoke us to examine our present and inspire us to more intentionally contribute to our future.”

I’ll offer a second reflection mid-week.



About Fred

Fred came to serve greater Williamsburg and WCC as lead pastor in October of 2010 and is grateful to be a part of the family. He is a husband, father, certified trauma professional, S.T.A.R. (strategies for trauma awareness & resilience) practitioner, community organizer, TEDx alum, founder of 3e Restoration, Inc. and co-owner of Philoxenia Culture LLC. He received his B.S. in Ministry/Bible at Amridge University and his Master’s of Religious Education in Missional Leadership from Rochester University. Currently he is a candidate for a Doctorate of Ministry in Contextual Theology in at Northern Seminary in Chicago. Fred has also served as an adjunct professor for Rochester University and Regent University where taught courses in philosophy, ethics, leadership, pastoral care, intro to Christianity, and ethnography. He has also served as a guest lecturer on the subjects of racialized cultural systems, poverty, and missiology at various universities, such as William & Mary and Oklahoma Christian University. Fred has authored on book (Racialized Cultural Systems, Social Displacement and Christian Hospitality) and several curriculum offerings, including The FloorPlan: Living Toward Restoration & Resilience. Fred enjoys hanging out with his family anytime, anywhere. He is deeply grateful for how God graciously works through the Church in all her various forms, despite our brokenness. He is passionate about seeing the last, least, and lonely of every neighborhood, city and nation experience God’s in-breaking kingdom, and come to know Jesus as King. Oh, and his favorite season is Advent and Christmas. Fred is a founding member of the board of directors for Virginia Racial Healing Institute, a member of the leadership team for Williamsburg's local chapter of Coming to the Table, and a member of Greater Williamsburg Trauma-Informed Community Network's Racial Trauma Committee and Training Committee.
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2 Responses to What Martin Niemoller Can Teach Us, Part 1

  1. bishopdfaith says:

    I had read his “confession “ before but it was helpful to learn a little more background of his in your post. Thanks for sending this. Dave

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Pingback: What Martin Niemoller Can Teach Us, Part 2 | Inside This Guys Head

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