Monday, March 24, 2008

So what did he really say?

This article by a journalist (Fatima Bhutto; incidentally a relative of the assassinated ex-PM of Pakistan) underlines the perils of picking up quotes from anthologies, as opposed to coming by them within the context of the main work. (titled 'And then they came for me')


> Martin Niemoeller, a German theologian and anti-war
> activist, was made famous by a poem he wrote during
> the Nazi takeover of Europe: "First they came for
> the socialists, and I didn't speak up, because I
> wasn't a socialist. Then they came for the trade
> unionists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a
> trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I
> didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew. Then they
> came for me, and there was no one left to speak up
> for me".

There are a couple of issues here.

Firstly, there is no such poem, written by Niemöller (or anyone else).

Here's what the Martin Niemöller Foundation has to say about it (text in German; Niemöller himself refutes the quote):

And here's another article on it, written in English, by a professor of German history:

Incidentally, what must strike any thinking person, is the fact that it is evidently significant to (other) thinking persons:

a) which communities, ethnic groups or political movements he spoke of about when first Niemöller did (in the famous, "Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten, habe ich geschwiegen, ich war ja kein Kommunist. usw.", quote) .
b) the order in which he listed them.
c) whether he actually said or wrote those exact words, and when he did so.

Granted that what is of importance (to quite an extent) is the idea, not who stated it, or when, in which language, or in which context, or whether it was supposed to be a joke etc. etc.; that notwithstanding, a journalist must remain true to as much of the truth as possible.

Secondly, in any case, this is a curious train of thought. "Let us defend the Jews/Communists/Trade Unionists et al, for otherwise, we will be killed."

This sort of neighbourly love is especially contemptible. As Nietzsche might say, "Dergleichen kann man nicht genug verachten.". (One cannot have too much contempt for this sort of thing.)

The journalist is not the only one who can quote a German theologian.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

oh snap! i too think tat fatima bhutto is overly self righteous and even more wrong with her pseudo socialist ideology