U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Fakes Famous Niemoeller Quote

Published: 1998-12-01

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The South Bend Tribune’s lengthy feature story on the IUSB student journalists’ visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum ended with a quote attributed to Martin Niemoeller, the German Protestant clergyman famous for his opposition to Hitler.

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.

This version seriously misrepresents Niemoeller, but that’s not the journalists’ fault—they have accurately rendered the version of Niemoeller’s saying that is prominently, and incorrectly, displayed at the Museum.

While there doesn’t appear to be a singular literary source for it, the most common (and believable) version of the Niemoeller quote begins:

“First they came for the Communists. ...”

And why not? When Niemoeller crisscrossed postwar Germany sermonizing about the Nazi tyranny, both he and his listeners knew that the National Socialists had made Germany’s powerful Communist Party their first target.

Why doctor the quotation? Because the authorities who spent years carefully devising the USHMM’s permanent exhibit feared that Middle America, which is the Museum’s chief propaganda target, shares to some extent the anti-Communist feelings of 1930s Germany, where the Communist threat in 1933 dwarfed America’s comparatively feeble, but hated, Red menace in the U.S.

In other words, the Museum authorities, feeling that Americans could not be trusted with the truth, sanctioned a lie (what’s new?). A small lie in one respect, but a big lie as well-displayed in outsize block letters across several square yards of museum wall space.

This is only one of many arrant and deliberate distortions of fact on exhibit, not meant merely to deceive us into thinking that the Museum’s version of their Holocaust story is documented fact—but to gull us into giving the Holocaust Lobby and the interests behind it—from Hollywood to Jerusalem—a moral, political, and of course a financial blank check.

One wonders what poor old Niemoeller, who spent much of his lengthy postwar career as an apologist for the Soviet and East Germans, would make of the scissoring of his Communist chums out of the one thing he ever said that he’ll be remembered for.

Ah, memory. ... What crimes are committed in your name!

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Bradley R. Smith
Title: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Fakes Famous Niemoeller Quote
Sources: Smith's Report, no. 60, December 1998, pp. 1, 5
Published: 1998-12-01
First posted on CODOH: Oct. 28, 2015, 6:31 a.m.
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