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.
Martin Niemöller, German Lutheran pastor
Niemöller wrote many versions of his speech, some trading socialist for communist, some longer and less poetic — but all warning of the dangers of apathy, of not caring about all groups, warning that hatred or indifference to one begins a slippery slope of hatred or indifference to all.
In a speech in 1946, Niemöller made clear that shrugging your shoulders or not speaking out, isn’t acceptable.
“I believe, we Confessing-Church-Christians (a movement in Nazi Germany opposing unification of Protestants under a state-sponsored church) have every reason to say: mea culpa, mea culpa! We can talk ourselves out of it with the excuse that it would have cost me my head if I had spoken out.”
Some dismiss Niemöller because of early support of what Hitler claimed to promise, even though he soon became a vocal critic of Nazism and was imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps for his opposition to the Nazis’ state control of the churches. In statements and in interviews, he made clear he deeply regretted not having spoken out, of not having done enough to help the victims of the Nazis and their supporters.
Why the history lesson, so to speak? Why the call to attention?
That’s an easy answer — attacks in the past year on local media, including flyers and attacks on Daily Bee reporter Keith Kinnaird for his coverage and robocalls assaulting The Reader publisher Ben Olson and burning of stacks of that publication. It’s not the first cowardly attack on news media, not in this country, or this community. We’ve all been attacked, called fake news for doing our jobs, writing all sides of a story.
Yep, I said cowardly.
Hate has no place in this community. Period.
Instead of socialists, insert the word liberals or conservatives. Instead of trade unionists, put Republicans or Democrats. Instead of any of the groups namd by Niemöller, insert a group to which you belong. Brings it closer to home, doesn’t it? Makes it harder to shrug off as inconsequential or making a big to-do about nothing.
Let me make it loud and clear — the robocalls, like the flyers and previous attacks on the media and community leaders, have no place here. As a community, we must stand strong against them. We must speak out against them. We must label them clearly for what they are: cowardly, obnoxious, lily-livered, spineless and gutless.
Caroline Lobsinger is managing editor of the Bonner County Daily Bee.