By Ed Harpring
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.
This famous quotation from Martin Niemöller, a protestant pastor who spent seven years in a Concentration camp, jumped out at me as our March for Life Pilgrimage group (consisting of high School youth groups and adults from the Archdiocese) visited the Holocaust Museum. Nina, our tour guide, led us through an intriguing exhibit entitled Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration & Complicity in the Holocaust.
Nina asked the question “How was this possible that an entire country could acquiesce to a hated-filled racist belief system?” While most of us attribute the Holocaust to the wildly violent racist views of Hitler and his Nazi regime, what is less known, but equally as poisonous, were attitudes of apathy and indifference of everyday citizens. As the Nazi propaganda machine knew well, “Repeat a lie often, and people will begin to believe the lie.”Nazis purposely continued to repeat despicable lies about Jews – cause of economic woes, were trouble-makers, and over time, began to espouse the unthinkable – Jews were subhuman and should be eliminated. While partially fueled by fear of reprisals for speaking out against racist propaganda, the vast majority of German citizens and most of the world, blindly went along, avoiding conflict, in essence, in full complicity with the fallacious predominant cultural hate-filled view of that time.
However, there were many heroes. There were those who did speak out, who risked their lives, and many who did lose their lives because they were willing to speak the truth. Nina gave us many examples of the lesser known stories of individuals, a police captain, a priest, a businessman, as well as many German families that risked everything to save lives of those they did not even know. And of course there are the better known stories such as Oskar Schindler who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust.
Nina’s ongoing theme for our tour was that “our choices have consequences.” We can choose to be silent in the face of evil, we can just go along the majority and hope someone else speaks up, or we can be brave and speak the truth, regardless of the cost.
As part of our tour, we were privileged to hear the harrowing story of Holocaust survivor, Halina (Litman) Yasharoff Peabody. Halina relayed her account of the survival, as a nine-year old, with her young sister and mother, who were without her father, who was falsely imprisoned for espionage by the Russians. At one point the family was headed for certain death because their Jewish identity had been discovered by a fellow German countryman during an escape train trip. Over time, the mother begged for mercy and eventually the German citizen had a change of heart and allowed the family to secretly escape. Again, choices have consequences.
Our Pilgrimage included visiting the March for Life Pro-Life Expo with over 80 Pro-Life Ministries representing the full gamut of resources and educational materials not only for ending abortion, but for adoption, and ways for churches to get involved in accompanying women with unplanned pregnancies. In addition, our group attended inspirational liturgies with enthusiastic and large congregations of mostly young adults at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (over 12,000) and the Pro-Life Youth Mass and Rally at the Verizon Center (over 20,000).
On Friday, we all gathered to participate in a historic March for Life that some say was the largest March for Life gathering of all time with over 700,000 participants from across the country, including the first-ever personal appearance by a vice president — Mike Pence. There were many outstanding speakers, but one of the most memorable was Rep. Mia Love of Utah. She spoke about a couple who courageously immigrated to the United States from Haiti to find a better life. The couple already had two children, and were in dire straits on their way to the United States when they found out they were now expecting another child. The couple considered abortion.
“Forty-one years ago, that couple could have made the choice to abort, but they didn’t. They chose life,” she said, referring to herself. “I’m certain that this couple would never have thought that that child would become the first female, black, Republican member elected to Congress.”
Our choices always have consequences. Our Pro-Life pilgrimage challenged all of us to courageously stand up for life.
Ed Harpring is the pro-life coordinator for the Archdiocese of Louisville.