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Skidmore College

Matthew Hockenos delivers Moseley Faculty Research Lecture

November 19, 2021
by James Helicke

Matthew D. Hockenos, Harriet Johnson Toadvine ’56 Professor in 20th-Century History, discussed the discrepancy between the myth and the reality of Martin Niemöller, the famed German Lutheran pastor popularly hailed for his stance against the Nazi regime, in the Edwin M. Moseley Faculty Research Lecture at Skidmore College.  

The lecture highlights compelling, original research and creative work, and is the highest honor Skidmore faculty confer upon one of their peers.  

Niemöller is best known for his poetic confession following World War II that begins “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out” and ends “Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” 

In his lecture, "Then They Came For Me: America and the Making of the Niemöller Myth,” Hockenos discussed how the famed German pastor, a former Nazi supporter, came to be admired for his heroism against the Third Reich by the likes of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The reality was much more complicated, Hockenos explained in his talk and his 2018 biography, “Then They Came for Me: Martin Niemöller, the Pastor Who Defied the Nazis.”  

“It’s our job to tell the complete story of Martin Niemöller, shining light on both his bigotry and his moral courage,” Hockenos told an in-person audience in Gannett Auditorium on Tuesday, Nov. 16. “The point in all this research is not to cancel Niemöller or to call for the Holocaust Museum to remove his poem from its exhibit, but rather to enrich the public’s understanding of this complicated man and, perhaps in doing so, to encourage Americans to challenge other myths of heroism they hold dear."  

Hockenos joined Skidmore’s faculty in 1998 and teaches widely in modern European history. His research has focused on 20th-century Germany, especially on the relationship between German Protestantism and Nazism. 

In addition to his biography of Niemöller, Hockenos is the author of the 2004 book “A Church Divided: German Protestants Confront the Nazi Past” (2004). He is also working on a third book focusing on the history of Niemöller’s famous confession, from its origins in 1946 to its contemporary invocations. His scholarship has also examined the more robust resistance to the Third Reich of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran theologian murdered by the Nazi regime. 

Established in 1957, the Moseley Faculty Research Lecture honors the memory of Edwin M. Moseley, whose 17 years at Skidmore capped a distinguished 41-year career in higher education. 

Hockenos had been scheduled to deliver the talk in March 2020, but it was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Professor of English Susannah Mintz, the 2020-21 award recipient, and Professor of American Studies Daniel Nathan, the 2021-22 recipient, will deliver their lectures at later dates.  

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