Peo­ple — like Niemoller — can change

Maryland Independent - - COMMUNITY FORUM -

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.


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