Otto von Bismarck once said: “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”
Hitler rose to power during the 1920s–30s. His single-minded Nazi party abandoned Christian love and compassion to fear and hatred. This same unbending fealty to a cult leader has become a real national problem for Americans this election year.
Martin Niemöller, a prominent German Lutheran Pastor during the 1920s and 1930s, supported the Nazis’ radical right-wing. He became disillusioned after Hitler took total control in 1933, becoming an outspoken critic of Hitler’s regime. His opposition earned him eight years in Nazi prisons/concentration camps.
Pastor Niemöller is best remembered for his postwar statement: “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.”
After World War II, Niemöller spoke about his early complicity with Nazism. His quote became the final words of the permanent exhibition at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. His words serve as an indictment of passivity and indifference during the Holocaust.
We face Pastor Niemöller’s same dilemma in 2024. We must choose between democracy/freedom and dictatorship/autocracy! If cult-driven dictatorship wins, who will speak for you?