Edited by Gerald Boerner

    

    
Commentary:

JerryPhoto_thumb2_thumb_thumb_thumb_We are all familiar to the martyrs throughout history. We are also familiar with notable patriots that stood strong for their countries. Of the former class, we have the early Christian martyrs who stood up for their fair and were willing to die for it; St. Peter and Joan d’Arc come to mind. When we talk of patriots, who can forget those American colonists who were willing to stand up against the most powerful military force in the world at the end of the 18th century; Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Paul Revere, and Samuel Adams come to mind. But, few men (or women) have been both patriots AND martyrs. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was such a man!  

Dietrich_Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer was a patriot, in that, he was not willing to remove himself from Nazi Germany in the 1930s to the safety of either the British Isles or the United States. Yes, he sojourned to those countries to develop his theology and work at creating multinational alliances to unite Christians in support of the human rights of all peoples, including the Jews. But in the end he returned to his homeland to speak up against the Nazi régime and their persecution of the Jews. He was implicated in one of many plots to assassinate Der Führer, Adolf Hitler. For that he was imprisoned in Berlin; he was later transferred to Buchenwald Concentration Camp after his role with the conspirators in the 1945 assassination plot.

As a patriot, he took his Christian values seriously and opposed the takeover of the Lutheran Church by the Nazis. He worked against Hitler, speaking out on radio and in small groups against the policies of the Nazi machine. He even became a double agent to be able to pass on secrets to the allied forces. He took his German citizenship seriously and sought to bring back sanity to the German state during the oppressive rule of the Nazis (1933-1945). In his own way, he was an example to his countrymen and a patriot in every sense of that word.

Westminster_Abbey_C20th_martyrsBonhoeffer was a light in the dark days of the Nazis. Even when in the concentration camps awaiting death, he kept his personal faith in his God and was an example to those around him. Even as he prepared to walk to his death on the gallows, the camp doctor observed that: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer … kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” 

We now will proceed to examine this martyr and patriot in the dark days of German history in more detail… GLB

These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2012 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved

[ 4359 Words ]
    

    

Quotations Related to Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

[ http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/d/dietrich_bonhoeffer.html ]

    

“A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“God’s truth judges created things out of love, and Satan’s truth judges them out of envy and hatred.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Human love has little regard for the truth. It makes the truth relative, since nothing, not even the truth, must come between it and the beloved person.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“It is the characteristic excellence of the strong man that he can bring momentous issues to the fore and make a decision about them. The weak are always forced to decide between alternatives they have not chosen themselves.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“It is the nature, and the advantage, of strong people that they can bring out the crucial questions and form a clear opinion about them. The weak always have to decide between alternatives that are not their own.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    

In Memoriam: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dying for his Christian Duty…

    

Bonhoeffer

    
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
(February 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and anti-fascist. He was a participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism and a founding member of the Confessing Church. He was involved in plans by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler. This led to his arrest in April 1943 and execution by hanging in April 1945, 23 days before the Nazis’ surrender. His view of Christianity’s role in the secular world has become very influential.

Bonhoeffer attended Tübingen University for a year and visited Rome, where he became conscious of the universality of the church, before matriculating at the University of Berlin in 1924, then a center of liberal theology under theologians such as Adolf von Harnack. Around this time, he discovered the writings of Karl Barth, the eminent Swiss theologian whose pioneering work in neo-orthodoxy was a reaction against liberal theology. Barth believed that "liberal theology" (understood as emphasizing personal experience and societal development) minimized Scripture, reducing it to a mere textbook of metaphysics while sanctioning the deification of human culture.

Bundesarchiv_Dietrich_BonhoefferVon Harnack cautioned Bonhoeffer against dangers posed by Barth’s "contempt for scientific theology", but the younger Bonhoeffer became increasingly critical of liberal theology as not only too constraining but also responsible for the lack of relevance in the church. Won over to Barth’s dialectical theology, Bonhoeffer was nevertheless not beyond criticizing Barth. The confluence of Barth’s Christocentrism and Harnack’s concern to show the relevance of Christianity to the modern world had an indelible effect on Bonhoeffer’s approach to theology.

Back in Germany, Bonhoeffer was further harassed by the Nazi authorities as he was forbidden to speak in public and was required to regularly report his activities to the police in 1940. In 1941, he was forbidden to print or to publish. In the meantime, Bonhoeffer – a pastor – joined the Abwehr (a German military intelligence organization) which was also the center of the anti-Hitler resistance. Bonhoeffer presumably knew about various 1943 plots against Hitler through Dohnanyi, who was actively involved in the planning.

In the face of Nazi atrocities, the full scale of which Bonhoeffer learned through the Abwehr, he concluded that "the ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live." He did not justify his action but accepted that he was taking guilt upon himself as he wrote "when a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it…Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace." (In this connection, it is worthwhile to recall his 1932 sermon, in which he said: “the blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith. On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness.”)

Buchenwald

After the failure of the July 20 Plot on Hitler’s life in 1944 and the discovery in September 1944 of secret Abwehr documents relating to the conspiracy, Bonhoeffer’s connection with the conspirators was discovered. He was transferred from the military prison in Berlin Tegel, where he had been held for 18 months, to the detention cellar of the house prison of the Reich Security Head Office, the Gestapo’s high-security prison. In February 1945, he was secretly moved to Buchenwald concentration camp, and finally to Flossenbürg concentration camp.
    

    

Bonhoeffer Speaks Out Against Hitler… (5:21)

    

Bonhoeffer’s Ministry and Theology

    
Bonhoeffer in Harlem

Still too young to be ordained, Bonhoeffer went to the United States in 1930 for postgraduate study and a teaching fellowship at New York City’s Union Theological Seminary. Although Bonhoeffer found the American seminary not up to his exacting German standards ("There is no theology here."), he had life-changing experiences and friendships. He studied under Reinhold Niebuhr and met Frank Fisher, a black fellow seminarian who introduced him to Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where Bonhoeffer taught Sunday school and formed a life-long love for African-American spirituals — a collection of which he took back to Germany. He heard Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. preach the Gospel of Social Justice and became sensitive not only to social injustices experienced by minorities but also the ineptitude of the church to bring about integration. Bonhoeffer began to see things "from below" — from the perspective of those who suffer oppression. He observed, "Here one can truly speak and hear about sin and grace and the love of God…the Black Christ is preached with rapturous passion and vision." Later Bonhoeffer was to refer to his impressions abroad as the point at which "I turned from phraseology to reality." He also learned to drive an automobile, although he failed the driving test three times. He traveled by car through the United States to Mexico, where he was invited to speak on the subject of peace. His early visits to Italy, Libya, Spain, United States, Mexico, and Cuba opened Bonhoeffer to ecumenism.

Bonhoeffer with Confirmants

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on a weekend getaway with
confirmands of Zion’s Church congregation (1932)
    

After his return to Germany from America in 1931, Bonhoeffer became a lecturer in systematic theology at the University of Berlin. Deeply interested in ecumenism, he was appointed by the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches (a forerunner of the World Council of Churches) as one of its three European youth secretaries. At this time he seems to have undergone something of a personal conversion from a theologian primarily attracted to the intellectual side of Christianity to a dedicated man of faith, resolved to carry out the teaching of Christ as he found it revealed in the Gospels. On November 15, 1931 — at the age of 25 — he was ordained at the Old-Prussian United St. Matthew’s Church (German: St. Matthäikirche) in Berlin.

    
Confessing Church

Bonhoeffer’s promising academic and ecclesiastical career was dramatically altered with Nazi ascension to power on January 30, 1933. He was a determined opponent of the regime from its first days. Two days after Hitler was installed as Chancellor, as Bonhoeffer delivered a radio address in which he attacked Hitler and warned Germany against slipping into an idolatrous cult of the Führer (leader), who could very well turn out to be Verführer (mis-leader, or seducer), he was cut off the air in the middle of a sentence, though it is unclear whether the newly elected Nazi regime was responsible. In April, Bonhoeffer raised the first and virtually only voice for church resistance to Hitler’s persecution of Jews, declaring that the church must not simply "bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam the spoke in the wheel itself."

In November 1932 (before the Nazi takeover), there had been an election for presbyters and synodals (church officials) of the German Landeskirche (Protestant established churches). This election was marked by a struggle within the Old-Prussian Union Evangelical Church between the nationalistic German Christian movement and Young Reformers — a struggle which threatened to explode into schism.

Hitler now unconstitutionally imposed new church elections in July 1933. Bonhoeffer put all his efforts into the election, campaigning for the selection of independent, non-Nazi officials.

Despite Bonhoeffer’s efforts, in the rigged July election an overwhelming majority of key church positions went to Nazi-supported German Christians. The German Christians won a majority in the general synod of the Old-Prussian Union Evangelical Church and all its provincial synods except Westphalia, and in synods of all other Protestant church bodies, except for the Lutheran churches of Bavaria, Hanover, and Württemberg. These bodies the opposition regarded as uncorrupted "intact churches", as opposed to the other so-called "destroyed churches".

In opposition to Nazification, Bonhoeffer urged an interdict upon all pastoral services (baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.), but Karl Barth and others advised against such a radical proposal.

In August 1933, Bonhoeffer and Hermann Sasse were deputized by opposition church leaders to draft the Bethel Confession, a new statement of faith in opposition to the German Christians. Notable for affirming God’s faithfulness to Jews as His chosen people, the Bethel Confession was however so watered down to make it more palatable that later Bonhoeffer himself refused to sign it. In September 1933, Bonhoeffer and his colleague Martin Niemöller helped form the Pfarrernotbund — a forerunner to the Confessing Church that was to be organized in May 1934 at Barmen in opposition to the German Christians.

Although not large, the Confessing Church did represent a major source of Christian opposition to the Nazi government. The Barmen Declaration, drafted by Barth and adopted by the Confessing Church, insisted that Christ, not the Führer, was the head of the church. However, the reorganized Protestant churches and the newly established Nazi-submissive German Evangelical Church — being influenced by nationalism and their traditional obedience to state authority as state churches (until 1918) — acquiesced to Nazification of the churches. In September 1933, the national church synod at Wittenberg approved the Aryan paragraph prohibiting non-Aryans from taking parish posts. When Bonhoeffer was offered a parish post in eastern Berlin, he refused it in protest of the racist policy.

    
London Ministry

Disheartened by the German Churches’ complacency with the Nazi regime, the 27-year-old Bonhoeffer accepted in the autumn of 1933 a two-year appointment as a pastor of two German-speaking Protestant churches in London: St. Paul’s and Sydenham. He explained to Barth that he had found little support for his views – even among friends – and that "it was about time to go for a while into the desert", but Barth regarded this as running away from real battle. He sharply rebuked Bonhoeffer, saying "I can only reply to all the reasons and excuses which you put forward: ‘And what of the German Church?’" Barth accused Bonhoeffer of abandoning his post and wasting his "splendid theological armory" while "the house of your church is on fire" and chided him to return to Berlin "by the next ship."

Bonhoeffer however did not go to England simply to avoid trouble at home, but hoped to put the ecumenical movement to work in the interest of the Confessing Church. He continued his involvement with the Confessing Church, running up a high telephone bill to maintain his contact with Martin Niemöller. In international gatherings, Bonhoeffer rallied people to oppose the German Christian movement and its attempt to amalgamate Nazi racism with the Christian gospel. When Bishop Theodor Heckel – the official in charge of German Evangelical Church foreign affairs – traveled to London to warn Bonhoeffer to abstain from any ecumenical activity not directly authorized by Berlin, Bonhoeffer refused to abstain.

    
Finkenwalde Seminary

In 1935, Bonhoeffer was presented with a much-sought-after opportunity to study non-violent resistance under Gandhi in his ashram, but, perhaps remembering Barth’s rebuke, decided to return to Germany in order to head an underground seminary for training Confessing Church pastors in Finkenwalde. As the Nazi suppression of the Confessing Church intensified, Barth was driven back to Switzerland in 1935; Martin Niemöller was arrested in July 1937; and in August 1936, Bonhoeffer’s authorization to teach at the University of Berlin was revoked after he was denounced as a "pacifist and enemy of the state" by Theodor Heckel (German: de:Theodor Heckel).

Bonhoeffer’s efforts for the underground seminaries included securing necessary funds, and he found a great benefactor in Ruth von Kleist-Retzow. In times of trouble, Bonhoeffer’s former students and their wives would take refuge in von Kleist-Retzow’s Pomeranian estate, and Bonhoeffer was a frequent guest. Later he fell in love with Kleist-Retzow’s granddaughter Maria von Wedemeyer, to whom he became engaged three months before his arrest. By August 1937, Himmler decreed the education and examination of Confessing Church ministry candidates illegal. In September 1937, the Gestapo closed the seminary at Finkenwalde and by November arrested 27 pastors and former students. It was around this time that Bonhoeffer published his best-known book, The Cost of Discipleship, a study on the Sermon on the Mount, in which he not only attacked "cheap grace" as a cover for ethical laxity but also preached "costly grace".

Bonhoeffer spent the next two years secretly travelling from one eastern German village to another to conduct "seminary on the run" supervision of his students, most of whom were working illegally in small parishes. The von Blumenthal family hosted the seminary in its estate of Groß Schlönwitz). The pastors of Groß Schlönwitz and neighboring villages supported the education by employing and housing the students (among whom Eberhard Bethge, who later would edit Bonhoeffer’s "Letters and Papers from Prison") as vicars in their congregations.

In 1938, the Gestapo banned Bonhoeffer from Berlin. In summer 1939 the seminary was able to move to Sigurdshof, an outlying estate (Vorwerk) of the von Kleist family in Wendisch Tychow. In March 1940 the Gestapo shut down the seminary there following the outbreak of World War II. Bonhoeffer’s monastic communal life and teaching at Finkenwalde seminary formed the basis of his books, The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together.

Bonhoeffer’s sister Sabine, along with her Jewish-classified husband Gerhard Leibholz and their two daughters, escaped to England by way of Switzerland in September 1940.

… [MORE]

    

Bonhoeffer’s Resistance Activities

    
Double Agent of Abwehr

Back in Germany, Bonhoeffer was further harassed by the Nazi authorities as he was forbidden to speak in public and was required to regularly report his activities to the police in 1940. In 1941, he was forbidden to print or to publish. In the meantime, Bonhoeffer – a pastor – joined the Abwehr (a German military intelligence organization) which was also the center of the anti-Hitler resistance. Bonhoeffer presumably knew about various 1943 plots against Hitler through Dohnanyi, who was actively involved in the planning. In the face of Nazi atrocities, the full scale of which Bonhoeffer learned through the Abwehr, he concluded that “the ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” He did not justify his action but accepted that he was taking guilt upon himself as he wrote “when a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it…Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace.” (In this connection, it is worthwhile to recall his 1932 sermon, in which he said: “the blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith. On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness.”)

Under cover of the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer served as a courier for the German resistance movement to reveal its existence and intentions and, through his ecumenical contacts abroad, to secure possible peace terms with the Allies for a post-Hitler government. His visits to Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland were camouflaged as legitimate intelligence activities for the Abwehr. In May 1942, he met Anglican Bishop George Bell of Chichester, a member of the House of Lords and an ally of the Confessing Church, contacted by Bonhoeffer’s exiled brother-in-law Leibhol; through him feelers were sent to British foreign minister Anthony Eden. However, the British government ignored these, as it had all other approaches from the German resistance. Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer were also involved in Abwehr operations to help German Jews escape to Switzerland. It was during this time that Bonhoeffer worked on Ethics and wrote letters to keep up the spirits of his former students. He intended Ethics as his magnum opus, but it remained unfinished when he was arrested.

    
Arrest

On April 6, 1943, Bonhoeffer and Dohnanyi were arrested not because of their conspiracy but because of long-standing rivalry between SS and Abwehr for intelligence fiefdom. One of the informers of Abwehr, Wilhelm Schmidhuber, was arrested by the Gestapo for involvement in a private currency affair. In the subsequent investigations the Gestapo uncovered Dohnanyi’s operation in which 14 Jews were sent to Switzerland ostensibly as Abwehr agents and large sums in foreign currency were paid to them as compensation for confiscated properties. The Gestapo, which had been looking for information to discredit Abwehr, sensed that they had a corruption case against Dohnanyi and searched his office at Abwehr where they discovered notes revealing Bonhoeffer’s foreign contacts and other documents related to the anti-Hitler conspiracy. One of them was a note that discussed plans for a journey by Bonhoeffer to Rome, where he would explain to church leaders why the assassination attempts on Hitler in March 1943 had failed. Nevertheless, Bonhoeffer’s involvement in assassination plots was not known by the Gestapo as Abwehr succeeded in explaining away the most damaging documents as official coded Military Intelligence materials. Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer were, however, suspected of subverting Nazi policy toward Jews and misusing Abwehr for inappropriate purposes. Bonhoeffer was suspected of evading military call-up, using Abwehr to circumvent Gestapo injunction against public speaking and staying in Berlin, and using Abwehr to further Confessing Church works, amongst other charges.

    
Imprisonment

For a year and a half, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned at Tegel military prison awaiting trial. There he continued his work in religious outreach among his fellow prisoners and guards. Sympathetic guards helped smuggle his letters out of prison to Eberhard Bethge and others, and these uncensored letters were posthumously published in Letters and Papers from Prison. A guard named Corporal Knobloch even offered to help him escape from the prison and "disappear" with him, and plans were made for that end. But Bonhoeffer declined it fearing Nazi retribution on his family, especially his brother Klaus and brother-in-law who were also imprisoned.

400PX-~1Flossenbürg concentration camp, Arrestblock-Hof:
Memorial to members of German resistance
executed on April 9, 1945
    

After the failure of the July 20 Plot on Hitler’s life in 1944 and the discovery in September 1944 of secret Abwehr documents relating to the conspiracy, Bonhoeffer’s connection with the conspirators was discovered. He was transferred from the military prison in Berlin Tegel, where he had been held for 18 months, to the detention cellar of the house prison of the Reich Security Head Office, the Gestapo’s high-security prison. In February 1945, he was secretly moved to Buchenwald concentration camp, and finally to Flossenbürg concentration camp.

On April 4, 1945, the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, were discovered, and in a rage upon reading them, Hitler ordered that the Abwehr conspirators be destroyed. Bonhoeffer was led away just as he concluded his final Sunday service and asked an English prisoner Payne Best to remember him to Bishop George Bell of Chichester if he should ever reach his home: “This is the end — for me the beginning of life.”

    

Execution

    

Bonhoeffer was condemned to death on April 8, 1945, by SS judge Otto Thorbeck at a drumhead court-martial without witnesses, records of proceedings or a defense in Flossenbürg concentration camp. He was executed there by hanging at dawn on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before soldiers from the United States 90th and 97th Infantry Divisions liberated the camp, three weeks before the Soviet capture of Berlin and a month before the capitulation of Nazi Germany. Like other executions associated with the July 20 Plot, the execution was particularly brutal. Bonhoeffer was stripped of his clothing and led naked into the execution yard, where he was hanged with thin wire for death by strangulation.

Hanged with Bonhoeffer were fellow conspirators Admiral Wilhelm Canaris; Canaris’ deputy General Hans Oster; military jurist General Karl Sack; General Friedrich von Rabenau; businessman Theodor Strünck; and German resistance fighter Ludwig Gehre. Bonhoeffer’s brother, Klaus Bonhoeffer, and his brothers-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi and Rüdiger Schleicher were executed elsewhere later in the month.

The camp doctor who witnessed the execution wrote: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer … kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

… [MORE]    

    

    

Bonhoeffer: Jamming the Wheels of the Nazi Machine… (10:03)

    

Please take time to further explore more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Resistance, Neo-Orthodoxy, Karl Barth, Christocentric, Reinhold Niebuhr, German Lutheran Church, Theologian, Martyr, Concentration Camp, and Buchenwald by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below…

    

References

    

Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: Dietrich Bonhoeffer…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deitrich_Bonhoeffer

Wikipedia: German Resistance…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_resistance

Wikipedia: Neo-Orthodoxy…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-orthodoxy

Wikipedia: Karl Barth…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Barth

Wikipedia: Christocentric…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christocentric

D. Bonhoeffer Web Site: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (English Site)…
http://www.dbonhoeffer.org/Biography.html

BBC Web Site: Great Lives — Dietrich Bonhoeffer…
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00g378b

Christianity.com: Bonhoeffer Transferred to Buchenwald Concentration Camp…
http://www.christianity.com/ChurchHistory/11630780/

Brainy Quote: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Quotes…
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/d/dietrich_bonhoeffer.html

    

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