People — like Niemoller — can change
I read with some horror, disappointment, concern in a recent letter to the editor about President Trump protecting our nation that Martin Niemoller was a supporter of Adolf Hitler (Maryland Independent, “Trump is protecting our nation,” March 22). The point of that connection was that anyone who quotes Niemoller with approval is demonstrably a fascist.
Many Americans supported Adolf Hitler. Many supported Mussolini, Stalin, Castor, Obama, Trump — take your pick. People support politicians for various reasons. Sometimes, those same people decide they don’t support those people anymore.
Niemoller, like many German Lutheran pastors, supported Hitler prior to the war. Even after the war, for some years, he made anti-Semitic statements. He wasn’t Dietrich Bonhoffer, although they were among the founders of the Confessing church, which opposed Hitler and his anti-Semitism before the war. Although Bonhoffer was executed in 1945 in a German prison camp (having been imprisoned, as was Niemoller, for several years), Niemoller died in 1982, at age 92.
Niemoller’s most famous quote is the one about how the Nazis came for the Jews, and then the unionists, and then the others until when they came for him, there was no one left to stand up. While he came to those views later in life than some, he expressed those views without fail, without waiting to be questioned but as part of his article of faith as a pastor.
People shouldn’t be judged based on the mistakes they admit. They should be valued for what they come to understand. Martin Niemoller came to understand the dangers of admitting a demagogue into political leadership. His cautions to us should be treasured.