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.
– Martin Niemöller
Niemöller was a prominent Protestant pastor who opposed the Nazi regime. He spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
I found his quote on the Holocaust Memorial in Des Moines, Iowa, this week:
I did not know this memorial was there. It was just erected this year down the hill from the Iowa State Capitol.
The memorial consists of a set of engraved steel plates bolted to concrete foundations. There were quotes from a few holocaust survivors who later settled in Iowa. I was impressed by this memorial and the fact that it was just now erected, when fewer and fewer eyewitnesses are still alive. In another decade, almost all people who were alive and victims during the Nazi regime will have passed away. Will we remember then?
Atrocities have a way to pass into history quickly. The eyewitnesses move on and try to forget. Only the nutcases, the deniers, the cynics and the rewriters of history remain to obfuscate the truth. Think about it, nearly 25% of the world population today does not remember 9/11. Either they were not yet born, or they were too young to be affected directly. To them, 9/11 is something that happened in history, like the Civil War is to the rest of us.
Memorials are there so we remember.
As I went around and read the plates, this picture and inscription gave me pause. Below is a close-up of the same picture.
It turns out, in 1980 I worked on a huge painting, some 40 x 50 inches big, with this photograph as the motif.
I never finished the painting, and this photograph is all I have left.
The holocaust memorial in Des Moines touched me in more than one way.