First They Came…

First They Came…

Other than my dog Cassie the wonder pup or my children, I am usually pretty tempered about what I choose to share personally. Although, take me out for a glass of wine and I might just overshare….

But this past week has been a powerful reminder for me that regardless of how far I think we have come as a nation, we still have work to do in embracing all the cultures and diversity that make our rich tapestry and democracy a true work of art. The shootings at the Pittsburgh synagogue last Shabbat simply make my heart ache. I was a product of a family with a Jewish father whose own mother was a key player in the relocation of German Jews to this country after WWII and the Holocaust. My mother was a blonde Lutheran from the heart of the Harz Mountains who grew up under the Third Reich and later the DDR. Classic story. Boy meets girl, they fall in love (not speaking each other’s language (maybe that helps?)) and she moves to a new country (mother-in-law is reluctant but accepts), learns the language, converts to a new religion and they have children who can live the American dream. I did not think anything was amiss until I moved to our next location in the Midwest in 4th grade and had other children on the playground search for the horns on my head because of my religious beliefs. There is not much else I remember about 4th grade. But I did not feel that tingling sensation up my spine again truly until last summer when I watched neo-Nazis march and chant slurs in the beautiful community where Kelsey went to college.

All of this brought to mind some words that are now stuck in my head. Born in Germany in 1892, Martin Niemöller was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who wrote some thoughtful words after his confinement in German concentration camps in the early 1940s. His powerful words are frequently used as a model for describing the dangers of apathy and are quoted during the Holocaust Remembrance Day observation services. You’ll likely recognize at least part of the famous cadence….

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.

My message today was not to get morose at all. It was to share how important the rays of humanity are at a time like this—for all of us. My parents shared the note that was left on their Rabbi’s car outside their temple in Muskegon, Mich. yesterday along with the bouquets of flowers that ended up on the front steps today. I would couple that with a few lovely notes I received from NTCA members, knowing my heritage and just feeling the need to share they are hopeful that our country can be united and that our society can be healed.

The dead are still mourned, yet these wonderful symbols that represent community help us understand that most people are still good and that is enough to hang on to.

2 thoughts on “First They Came…

  1. Well said Shirley. Thank you for saying it and sharing. Shalom Aleikhem…In these times I’m reminded of another relevant quote by MLK Jr. — Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

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