Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller (January 14, 1892 – March 6, 1984) was a prominent German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor. Although he was a national conservative, an antisemite, and initially a sympathizer of Adolf Hitler, he became one of the founders of the Confessing Church, which opposed the nazification of German Protestant churches. For his opposition to the Nazi’s state control of the churches, Niemöller was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945. He narrowly escaped execution and survived imprisonment due largely to the intervention of the Bishop of Chichester, George Bell, who was at the time the strongest British ally of the Confessing Church. He claimed these events purged him of his anti-Semitic beliefs. Since the 1950s he was a vocal pacifist and anti-war activist. He met with Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War and was a committed campaigner for nuclear disarmament. Criticized for failing to speak out against Hitler’s execution of Jews and other victims of his ideology, Niemöller nonetheless showed courage in opposing the regime, which too few did. While he said that he should have done more to oppose Hitler, it is difficult to see what more he might have done, given the length of time he spent in prison.
In 1945, Niemöller famously stated:
They came first for the Communists,
and I did not speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I did no speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I did no speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.