In 1934, Hitler had just taken complete power of Germany. Through assassinations, propaganda, and political maneuvering, he'd weaseled his way into the position of Chancellor, then merged that position with that of President, passed a law giving himself dictatorial powers for four years, eliminated civil liberties, banned political parties other than his own, and taken control.
Just the year before, high-ranking member of the government were still sure that he could be managed.
Smack in between that moment and the onset of World War II in 1939, this photograph was taken. There is still debate as to whether or not the lone dissenter is August Landmesser, but most accounts, including his daughter's, seem to agree that it is.
Landmesser was a German who joined the Nazi party early on, hoping that it would mean employment and a steady income. However, in 1935 when he got engaged to Irma Eckler, a Jewish woman, he was expelled from the party. Over the course of the several years that followed, he was imprisoned and subsequently sent to war where he was killed in action. Irma, meanwhile, was sent to several concentration camps, eventually arriving at the Bernburg Euthanasia Centre where she was murdered along with 14,000 others. Their two children survived and were raised by foster parents. In 1951, the Senate of Hamburg retroactively recognized August and Irma's marriage as legitimate.
When this photograph was taken in June of 1936, August and Irma's first child, Irene Eckler, had already been born, however they had been unable to marry due to the passage of the Nuremburg Laws. Landmesser had gotten a taste of what Germany under Hitler was becoming. He'd seen, first-hand, the effects of Hitler's dictatorship, and so he stood, arms crossed, the lone dissenter in a sea of salutes.
I say all of this to make one salient point: listen to those who have been affected.
Listen to the people who have been affected, first-hand, by the current administration, by the racism that pervades every facet of this country, and by the economic and social inequalities that have literally been built into our systems of government and society (i.e. if you haven't read up on why the freeways in Los Angeles are where they are, maybe take a look).
August Landmesser was alone in his refusal to salute. And I can only hypothesize, but I would guess that he didn't talk about his plight much with others. Who could he trust? Who could he talk to who wouldn't turn him and his wife and child over to the Gestapo?
But today, there are millions of August Landmessers screaming to be heard.
The more than 20 detainees in ICE custody just this year.
People of certain racial and ethnic backgrounds are being systematically murdered and disenfranchised by law enforcement across this country. The rise of literal Nazis has erupted exponentially, and along with it, all of the racism and bigotry and terrorism that makes it what it is. And the current administration has not only refused to condemn men like those who planned to kidnap Michigan's Governor, who drove trucks into crowds of Black Lives Matter protestors injuring many and killing people like Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, and who declare themselves as a "superior race," but rather, the President and his followers have lauded and encouraged them.
"Stand back and stand by..."
So, I want you to think. Really think. Tell that impulsive part of your gut that only read this far in order to disagree with this post to stand down for a moment, put on your critical thinking cap, and really think.
If you were August Landmesser's friend in Germany in 1936, would you want to look back after WWII and say that you were the guy next to him proudly saluting? Or would you want to look back on that day and be able to tell a story about asking your friend why he wasn't saluting, listening to his tale, realizing what Hitler was doing, and opposing that dictatorship from then on?
Those are the stakes today.
There are millions of August Landmessers in the streets, in your social media feeds, and all around you. And they're not just silently crossing their arms anymore. You have the chance to listen to them. I hope you take it.