VOL. 131 | NO. 146 | Friday, July 22, 2016
We Are They
By Dan Conaway
THERE IS NO OTHER, OTHER THAN US. They came for them. They came for us.
You may not have heard of Martin Niemöller, a Protestant pastor in 1930s Germany, but you’ve probably heard him quoted, beginning, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist.” You may have heard or seen some variation of the original referencing Communists or Catholics or Mexicans or Muslims or African-Americans or whatever other, but you got the point because the original and every version concludes, “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.”
That was the point. That is the point.
I know fellow Memphian Jerry Ehrlich. He and I have been friends, competitors and occasional colleagues since college. I recently saw a documentary and saw something about him I didn’t know. His mother was a Holocaust survivor of not one but nine camps and neighbor of Anne Frank. Nine camps.
I know fellow Memphian Susan Adler Thorp. She’s a fine writer, astute political observer, and she was a high school classmate of mine at White Station. In that same documentary, I saw something about her I didn’t know. Both of her parents were Holocaust survivors. Both.
For Jerry and Susie (I get to call her that because she calls me Danny), the Holocaust wasn’t a distant, long-ago horror; it was a member of the family. For all the subjects of that documentary – five living survivors and six second-generation survivors all in Memphis – the Holocaust isn’t a historical debate or present-day metaphor for human inhumanity; it’s the very real and present protagonist in their true-life stories.
For all of us in Memphis, all of us everywhere, their stories of unbelievable terror and loss, of challenge and courage and love, of somehow surviving and then thriving in a strange land, brings the Holocaust home, making the unfathomable size of 6 million dead fit into lives in a house down the street, next door, in the faces of friends and high school classmates.
The documentary that Jerry and Susie are part of is “Lives Restarted,” and Jerry is the producer. He’s working on getting it in wide release, hopefully on PBS, and he asked me to take a look. As a result, I saw things I hadn’t seen before, things that have been here all along but, like most of us, I always thought of them as far away.
As we wonder how it could have happened, Niemöller’s quote is instructive. As we listen to the tenor of our national conversation and view current events, another 1930s German quote is more instructive still: “As soon as by one’s own propaganda even a glimpse of right on the other side is admitted,” Adolf Hitler said, “the cause for doubting one’s own right is laid.”
I’m a Memphian, and we share lives and history, and the responsibility for both.
Dan Conaway, a communication strategist and author of “I’m a Memphian,” can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.