First they came for the Jews?
Red Star Coven: First they came for the Jews? has an interesting post about a historically misleading T-shirt, which misquotes the German pastor Martin Niemoller, speaking about resistance to Nazism, as saying “First they came for the Jews”.
Red Star Coven: First they came for the Jews?: gives the first line of the original, followed by the English translation of the whole poem:
Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Kommunist.
When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.
The makers of the T-shirt say that Niemoller’s words “are testimony to the horrific consquences of abandoning human solidarity”, and so they are, but by omitting all the groups other than the Jews they themselves dilute and weaken the message.
Niemoller’s poem was often quoted in South Africa during the apartheid era, and in South Africa, too, they first came for the communists. The Suppression of Communism Act (1950) was one of the first pieces of legislation the Nationalist government passed to suppress political opposition after they came to power in 1948.
Then they came for the African Nationalists. The ANC and PAC were banned in 1960.
Then they came for the Liberals, and the members of the Liberal Party were picked off one by one until the party was forced to disband by the Prohibition of Improper Interference Act of 1968.
And the Jews?
Well, they never actually came for the Jews.
The National Party indulged in a lot of antisemitic rhetoric before 1948. When King George VI and his family visited South Africa in 1947, the Nationalist media suggested that he should rather visit the Jewish state that the British were developing in Palestine.
But the Nationalists came to power in 1948 in the same year that the state of Israel was formed, and as time went on there was increasing cooperation between the National Party regime and Israel in such things as the development of WMD.
Many Jews were active in opposition groups, including the Communist and Liberal Parties, but many of those had abandoned Judaism and were atheists or agnostics. Official Jewish organisations were often very muted in their criticism of apartheid, if they criticised at all. They weren’t the only ones, of course. Many other religious bodies were equally muted in their criticism, and some were quite sycophantic in their support of the government. And Jews were as quick to abandon human solidarity as others, in spite of the Holocaust.
It is all very well to say “Never forget”, but we do, especially when it is comfortable or convenient to do so.