"These are a few reasons why attention to civil liberties - even when most things seem to be going okay - is so important. Justice William O. Douglas once said, "As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything seems seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we must be most aware of change in the air -- however slight -- lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness."
"This is what happened in Germany. Everyone talks about the brutal results of the Holocaust, but too few consider the many mundane acts that led to it. An exception was the reporter Milton Mayer who in his remarkable book - They Thought They Were Free - quoted a German professor on the rise of Nazism:
". . . To live in the process is absolutely not to notice it -- please try to believe me -- unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, 'regretted.'
". . . Believe me this is true. Each act, each occasion is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow.
". . . Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven't done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we did nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair."
When Hitler took power he helped establish his dictatorship by repeatedly invoking Article 48 of the Weimar Republic constitution which stated, "In case public safety is seriously threatened or disturbed, the Reich President may take the measures necessary to reestablish law and order, if necessary using armed force. In the pursuit of this aim, he may suspend the civil rights . . . partially or entirely. "
"And why was it all so peaceful and easy for Hitler? In part because the supposedly democratic Weimar Republic had already used this provision 57 times prior to Hitler's rise to power.."For such reasons, many of the real lessons of the Holocaust are not to be found so much in its death camps as in its birth places. And this is why the changes taking place in our own country now - some eerily reminiscent of Article 48 - deserve such close attention.