Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Today is Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day wherever Jewish people live. The systematic gathering up and execution of millions of European Jews, by the Nazi Party of Germany and collaborators in their occupied countries during World War II, was based on the ethnicity of the victims, not their degree of religious practice. In fact, ethnic Jews who had converted to Christianity and married Christians were hunted and killed as well. Having just one Jewish grandparent was enough to "qualify" for the death camps. This "genetic" component of the Holocaust is what made it a "genocide". The other ethnic group targeted for death were the Roma (gypsies). (It was also the biological origins of Tutsis in Rwanda that subjected them to massacre by extremist Hutus in the 1990s which made that a genocide as well.)

In addition to the genocidal policies of the Nazi regime, they rounded up and executed political dissidents like union organizers and Communist Partisans, and a notable religious minority, the Jehovah's Witnesses. These victims were killed for their personal beliefs, not their genetic makeup. It was through the Witnesses' own communications network that they first got word out from Germany what was happening in the internment camps. But then, as today, "peculiar" people were not taken seriously, and those very early warnings were ignored. On this Day of Remembrance, I remember them too.

Translated from a poem by German Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller:

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 was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

See an academic's research on the origins of the oft quoted and variable poem.

For further information about genocide in modern times, and US policy decisions in various case studies, see "A Problem From Hell" by Samantha Power.


Babzy said...

thanks for the poem , remembrance is a duty .

Abraham Lincoln said...

The poem is dynamic.

Hilda said...

I've read that poem before but its effect on me is still as strong as ever. Thank you for the reminder to care and to be involved, always and in everything.

Bibi said...

Poem choice is great. I think we should add the American Indians to the list of peoples who have been persecuted, and still are.

Halcyon said...

I really enjoyed the poem. It's simple - yet very powerful. Thanks for remembering on this day.

Amy at Woza Books said...

Elaine, thanks for remembering those we lost. My family was among them. Here is a different sort of poem. This one was found pinned to the coat of a dead child in Ravensbruk Concentration Camp.

O Lord
remember not only
the men and women of good will
but also those of ill will
But do not remember
all the suffering they have
inflicted on us,
Remember the fruits
we have wrought
thanks to this suffering….
Our comradeship
our loyalty
our humility, our courage
our generosity
the greatness of heart
which has grown out of all this
And when they come to judgment
let all the fruits
which we have borne
be their forgiveness.

rob said...

Hi Elaine, Have you seen other remembrance day posts around?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Wonderful Post!. A reminder that over the weekend I twice watched "The Wonderful, Horrible life of Leni Riefenstahl".

Saretta said...

Thanks for remembering... That poem gave me the shivers!

Babooshka said...

The poem chilled me to the core. I only found out when I was 15 that my Grandmother was Jewish and had changed her name to a more anglozied version due the feeling in London at the time in the early '30s.
We should stand up and be counted always. Very timely too given the current situation in Gaza and the ill feeling towards anyone considered different in this poor economic climate. When will we ever learn. Exceptional post.

Virginia said...

Your post and text today are powerful reminders that we all need to hear.

USelaine said...

Thank you all for visiting and commenting on this post. The poem has been used in many places, often altered in English. Also not on the list of those marked for death by the Nazis were the homosexuals, especially the men. In the Aryan supremacy way of thinking, the German lesbians could still be impregnated to bear more of the "race". And the mentally ill, and physically deformed, were marked for death. The pathology of the thinking is now beyond belief, but if we forget, it will happen again.

This topic is close to me because I lived for almost two years in a small Hungarian city, where tens of thousands of Jews in the district were first confined to a ghetto, then in the spring of 1944, loaded onto the trains to Auschwitz. I visited Auschwitz/Birkenau in the summer of 1996. Everyone alive today should visit that site, to try to grasp that it didn't happen on another planet, that Himmler's Final Solution was implemented where the grass is green, the wildflowers bloom, birds sing, and skies are blue. The old black and white photographs documenting the liberation of the death camps don't show how such evil blends right in with our daily lives, breathes the same air we breathe.

I can get wound up with this, as you can see. Thanks for your patience. Tomorrow, it's back to the usual Willits.

USelaine said...

Bibi - It's true, although not on the list Niemoller was describing in WWII, the American Indians were massacred, starved, and rounded up into concentration camps. I wonder how many similar events through history have been recorded, and how many hidden. The problem now is to figure out how to see it coming, and to derail it before it's too late.

rob said...

Valeria of Verona DP made a remembrance day post too. Very impressive.