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I have read and heard people read many different versions of "First They Came ..." and according to the Wikipedia article, it was originally published in English by Milton Mayer. This led me to wonder if the poem was first written out in full in German, which I have asked in another question. Here I was wondering, how the various differences evolved. The version I have heard is:

First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Catholic.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

The version on Wikipedia is:

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.

How did these differences evolve?

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  • 1
    The Wikipedia article is pretty detailed and discusses the multiple versions. In what way do you find it deficient? Jan 21, 2017 at 22:56
  • @Gilles It does not explain the process or how those variations reached English.
    – Benjamin
    Jan 21, 2017 at 23:00

1 Answer 1

1

As said in Rand al'Thor's answer to your other question about this poem...

Associate Professor Harold Marcuse has made a detailed study of Martin Niemöller and the evolution of "First They Came ...":

And there's a 2016 PDF of information as well, which says it's possible something similar was being spoken in the United States of 1947:

the rhythmically repeating "poetic" version, which he may have begun to employ during his speaking tour in the United States in early 1947.

If Martin Niemöller did speak English, as quotes seem to indicate that he could, then that's about the earliest time the poem could've appeared in said language.

And in 8 years, the poem in English had eclipsed any narrative form:

the next mentions of Niemoller's statement that I could find are invocations by others in English that were published in 1955, by which time the familiar "poetic" version had already emerged. These publications indicate that a more narrative version was still familiar in the early 1950s, but also that the version with the poetic refrain was already in circulation.

Later on in the PDF, the lack of clear information is stated, as Citation 25:

Without other texts from this speaking tour we cannot document conclusively that Niemoller wrote or said the poetic version of the quotation during that trip in the United States. 25

  1. We do, however, have Franklin Littell's presumably firsthand testimony that Niemioiller "concluded many of his addresses [in the US in 1946-47] with the now famous statement." See Martin Niemioiller, Exile in the Fatherland: Martin Niemoller's Letters.from Moabit Prison, ed. Hubert G. Locke (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1986), p. vii

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