Martin Niemoeller was a Protestant pastor born January 14, 1892 in Lippstadt, Westphalia. He was a submarine commander in World War 1. He was anti-communist and initially supported the Nazis until the church was made subordinate to state authority.
In 1934, at the age of 42, he started the Pastors’ Emergency League to defend the church. Hitler became angered by Niemoller’s rebellious sermons and popularity and had him arrested on July 1, 1937. He was tried the following year and sentenced to seven months in prison and fined.
After Niemoeller’s release, Hitler ordered him arrested again and he spent the next seven years in concentration camps in ‘protective custody.’ He was liberated in 1945 and was elected President of the Protestant church in Hesse and Nassau in 1947. He held the title until 1964. He was also a President of the World Council of Churches in the 1960s.
Niemoeller was a pacifist who spoke out against nuclear weapons. He is best known for his powerful statement about the failure of Germans to speak out against the Nazis:
“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out.
And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
He died in Wiesbaden on March 6, 1984.